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Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica [Paperback]

Sara Wheeler
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 1997

After writing two highly praised travel books, Sara Wheeler was accepted by the American government to be the first foreigner on their National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists' and Writers Program. She spent seven months on the continent, travelling from the fabled Ross Ice Shelf to the Pole itself, the remoter reaches of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and the balmy Antarctic Peninsula.

Terra Incognita is a meditation on the landscape, myths and history of one of the remotest parts of the globe, as well as an encounter with the international temporary residents of the region - living in close confinement despite the surrounding acres of white space - and the mechanics of day-to-day life in extraordinary conditions. Through Sara Wheeler, the Antarctic is revealed, in all its seductive mystery.

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Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica + The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (4 Sep 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099731819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099731818
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 179,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Antarctica could hope for no better chronicler: spirited, humorous and highly intelligent, she is also a writer of rare talent" (Observer)

"Penetrating, vivacious and often amusing, Wheeler's record has a sharp authenticity" (The Times)

"She writes with a consistent wry wit... she never lacks empathy, compassion or generosity for people whose values, background and gender were the polar opposite of hers...What she has done could not be done better" (Independent)

"Her book is an impressive achievement, one genuinely brushed by the ghosts of the past" (Beryl Bainbridge Literary Review)

"Terra Incognita deserves to be a bestseller...a wonderful book and terrific corrective to the polar bulldust periodically emitted by Sir Ralph Wotsisname and others of his ilk" (Daily Telegraph)

Book Description

A modern classic of Antarctic exploration, beautifully rejacketed to join The Magnetic North

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A guide to two worlds: inner as well as outer 18 Aug 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sara Wheeler got a first glimpse of Antarctica when she completed her north-to-south journey through Chile ["Travels In A Thin Country"] by visiting the Chilean base on the Antarctic peninsula. She wrote the title of this book on a new notebook as she flew north again from the Chilean base. It took her two years to arrange to return. For the reader, this account of her adventure was worth every minute and all the effort.

The result is enormously interesting and entertaining. Her writing is a pleasure to read, whether dealing with historical background material, describing childish horse-play and lavatorial school-boy pranks [mostly perpetrated by the British, sadly], rhapsodising over the Antarctic landscape or reflecting on her own inner landscape of fear, depression and faith.

Her style is succinct and humorous when describing life in the bases and in the field, and close to elegiac when treating with the landscape and her own thoughts and feelings about it all. It's clear that Antarctica is spectacular in the extreme. Sara Wheeler has described it without becoming carried away or over-blown but has nevertheless given us a picture lacking nothing in colour, detail and texture.

There is a large library of books on Antarctic exploration. I have quite a number myself, including "South With Scott" by Teddy Evans, signed by the author. Sara Wheeler's book is eminently worthy of taking its place amongst those of Evans, Wilson, Shackleton and Cherry Garrard.

Sara Wheeler is not an explorer or a scientist or an obsessive. She has not written a book describing the events in the moments of the creation of a myth or the miseries endured whilst accomplishing some heroic but essentially meaningless quest [what she refers to as the how-dead-can-you-get tendency]. She has given us a book by an engaging, percipient, thoughtful lay person who describes, for those of us who are entranced but will never go there, what Antarctica is like.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jewel-like clarity and detail. Incredible. 8 Jan 2003
Extraordinary. Made me laugh and cry at once. Deadpan British humour and intriguing detail coexists along soaringly touching, even mystical, reverie. There is nothing sentimental about Wheeler's love for the Antarctic. This is a real journey told with incredible candour. It's a privilege to have read it.
One of Wheeler's cleverest adjectives to describe detailed, jewel-like writing that she admires is "lapidary." She uses it twice in the book to describe the Antarctic writing of other authors. But HER OWN writing is as jewel-like and detailed in the extreme. What an extraordinary book. It's not like a book at all - it's like a world.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Sara Wheeler visited Antarctica under the Writers and Artists program. She travelled extensively and visited the staions of many countries.
This book strikes me as being astonishingly perceptive. She appreciates subtle and less-subtle differences between the nationalities (I'm afraid that the laddish atmosphere of the British base was somewhat unwelcoming). She points out that the real reason for all of these countries maintaining an antarctic presence is more political than scientific.
This book is a rare blend of the spiritual and the scientific. Wild lonely places often evoke a feeling of closeness to God and although many authors have written about this, Ms Wheeler in addition furnishes us with explanations on katabatic winds.
There are tangible connections between her journey and those of the early explorers.....
Lots of little things ring true; she does not display her antarctic mementoes because, off the ice, no-one will understand. I can well believe it. Try telling someone you would like to visit Antarctica and watch their reaction......
Great book. Better travel writing than Theroux, and that's high praise. Buy it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I really enjoyed Sara Wheeler's insights into a strange and unforgiving world that very few of us will ever have a privilege to see. Perhaps the book doesn't cover the controversies of Antarcitca enough - the constant battle to turn the continent into a giant oil field is one of the last great eco-battles. But in essence, no-one could read this book and be unmoved by the beauty of the place, and feel a little jealous.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield... 27 May 2001
There are some places that even the most hardened travellers, save for Dennis Tito, will never get the chance to experience; space is one, Antarctica is another. Sara manages to blend natural history and human endeavour with a wicked sense of humour. Superb.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and Easy to Read 12 July 2007
This book is extremely well written and enjoyable. Despite containing a lot of historical detail it still manages to entertain, and as I say in my review title it is easy to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the insights into the lives of the historical explorers. I am not a cold weather person but I found myself wanting to go there. The descriptions of the people are well crafted and you feel you know each of them intimately. I particularly like the descriptions of the English v the Americans and I can imagine each one. Why four stars instead of five. I found some of the scientific discussions difficult to understand but don't let this put you off, as the book is an excellent read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous 22 July 1999
By A Customer
Just finished reading this...couldn't put it down. Sara Wheeler really nails down the essence of the lure of Antarctica as a blend of physical and inner journeys, and the way the place alters human relationships. She fully justifies the support of artists in Antarctica. And she's honest enough to describe the British base, Rothera, as a trough of despond plagued by the worst excesses of the British male psyche. This book could probably only have been written by a woman. Very strongly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An intimate portrait of Antarctica
In her writing, Wheeler has a knack for immersing herself in the places that she visits, and teasing out the stories of the location and the people. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars Terra Incognita: Travels in Anarctica by Sara Wheeler
I found it a most exciting books. I had no idea what is going on in Antarctica and Sara Wheeler 's prose was easy to read and informative. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J DE MICHEL
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for any Antarctic enthusiast
Sarah Wheelers travels through the Antarctic are told in a highly readable style with many knowledgeable references to the Polar heroes of the 'heroic age of exploration' and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by sylvia
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book
I loved reading about the various areas in Antarctica and the difficulties encountered when living there. Very well written too.
Published 5 months ago by anitacurtis
5.0 out of 5 stars Antarctica revealed
Sara Wheeler writes extremely well, you feel as though you are there with her, such is her understanding of human responses.
Published 12 months ago by birdsdon
2.0 out of 5 stars Over rated and hugely disappointing
I read this before going to Antarctica in the late 90's and even then felt that I was either missing something or that it was very over rated by most reviewers. Read more
Published 12 months ago by J. J. Bradshaw
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful visual imagery
I loved this book. I bought it as the author was recommended, rather than having a specific interests in the Antarctic. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Millie P
5.0 out of 5 stars Great condition
Reading this book for part of my module in Travel Writing. I would recommend you read it if you like this sort of this thing?
Published 16 months ago by Max Benjamin
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea.
Sarah Wheeler's 'Terra Incognita' is the account of the writer's relatively recent travels in Antarctica. Read more
Published 17 months ago by John Brain
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
I came to this book via the diaries of Scott and Shackleton and much of the first-hand material attending them, thence to The Worst Journey in the World and the biography of Apsley... Read more
Published on 13 July 2011 by Patrick Malone
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