21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2003
"Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having bad time that has ever been devised..."
So begins Apsley Cherry-Garrard's "The Worst Journey in the World", a book haunted by the possibility that the author's decision to turn his dogs for home on 10th March 1912 may have cost Captain Scott and his two remaining companions their lives. Cherry-Garrard, the second youngest man to sail South in the Terra Nova, initially seemed to be the least suited to the hardships of Edwardian-era polar travel. A quiet, unassuming, chronically shortsighted member of the aristocracy he was initially plagued by self-doubt to almost the same degree as his expedition leader. All the more joyful then to find, in this excellent travel book, the emergence of one of the unsung heroes of the expedition. A gifted, gracious writer Cherry matter-of-factly chronicles the horrors experienced by the party over two long years in the South. The first half of the book records what amounts to Cherry's triumph (though is far too self-critical to acknowledge it as such). His growing confidence and adeptness on the boat journey down to the Antarctic, leading to his selection for the 3-man Winter Expedition to Cape Crozier to collect King Emperor penguin eggs. This 150 mile round trip - the 'Worst Journey' of the title - was undertaken in breath-takingly harsh conditions six months before the attempt on the Pole. Along with Edward Wilson and Henry 'Birdy' Bowers Cherry hauled 790 lbs of stores and equipment across treacherous, uncharted terrain in permanent darkness. The temperature reached minus 76C.
The Winter Journey can be seen as the saving grace for the entire fated trip - carried out at huge personal cost for nothing but the furtherment of scientific knowledge. The text is plain but wholly affecting. "I don't know why our tongues never got frozen but all my teeth, the nerves of which had been killed, split to pieces." Cherry came through this experience but it had shattered more than his teeth. Phyiscally drained to an extent from which he never really recovered, he was not subsequently selected for the final leg of the Polar assault - a bitter blow to even this humble man. Instead, and maybe worse, he returned to base, waited and, when the Pole party failed to reappear, was ordered out with dogs to find them. He got as far as the infamous One tonne depot - the food & fuel cache which Scott just failed to reach - before blizzards and rations forced him back again. His leader Scott and his best friends Wilson and Bowers were less than two miles distant. The realisation of this fact, uncovered along with the bodies the following spring, broke Cherry completely.
He returned home, fought in the First World War, and afterwards slowly set about both dismantling his country estate and honouring his lost comrades by writing the clearest, closest, most moving account of the tragedy I have read. More than just a dry account for Polar enthusiasts 'Worst Journey..' is a must for anyone who has complained that they were too cold, too tired, too overworked or too undervalued as a human being. Awe-inspiring in content, beautifully written and a real treasure on almost every level "Worst Journey" fully reveals the highs and lows of this famous episode with a magnifcent gentility that many of the men who went South found in the vast empty landscape. True, there are no photographs in my edition (an enormous oversight by the publisher surely) but don't let this put you off. There are plenty of Cherry's prematurely aged face in other Scott books but none have the quiet authority of the words that this man found for this doomed adventure story.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
In an age of cynicism and the popular sport of debunking of old heroes, this book makes a refreshing read. It was written in a more innocent age and this is certainly a strenth of the book together with the honest integrity of the author Cherry Apsley-Gerrard. Here is a man well qualified to write of Scott's last expedition as he was there. Not only well qualified but a fine writer in his own right as anyone reading the book will find.
Through the authors eyes we get to know the persons involved in a more intimate way. Scott, highly strung and full of nervous energy but a true leader of men. The author does not shirk in describing him. Wilson, the gentle man of science who is popular with everyone. The indefatigable Bowers willing to take on any task with a cheerful face. The taciturn Oates, who people only seem to remember for his heroic gesture, turns out to be a gifted orator illuminating many a long polar night with his unsuspected gift.
In this age we should be inspired by their bravery for the advances of science,their comradeship and their ability to take on impossible tasks without complaint. We should admire the resolute way they refused to leave any man behind, unlike some modern day mountaineers who choose to ignore the dying, ensnared in that temporary insanity known as summit fever. These men lived like true English gentlemen and died like true English gentlemen. The grain ran deep. In an age when many an unworthy is held up as a hero, here we have examples to all of what this word truly means.
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2003
This moving book of human courage, companionship and self sacrifice is the greatest I have ever read. The haunted, emotive words of the youngest man of the expedition, Cherry Garrard, leap across the years, making it both tragic and gripping, heroic and uplifting, and with final diary enteries of his dying comrades included, heart rendering. A true story of not only the toughest expediton to the South Pole but an account full of human warmth for the men who undertook the journey. At its conclusion one is left by the sense of deep admiration for those who reached beyond their normal selves, against overwhelming odds to achieve the impossible, not for riches, nor fame, but for the sake of universal human knowledge and achievement. My favourite book of all.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2003
There is a recurrent weakness among travel books, which is this: they all too often give the impression that the author set out on his travels for no better reason than to write about them. This is - emphatically - not one of those books. Polar explorers, these days, are often dismissed as self-glorifying adventures. There is a case for this as far as, say, Shackleton, is concerned, for all his heroic achievements once he was in a tight spot. Scott, on the other hand, merely used the quest for the pole as a selling point for an expedition of scientific research, a reason he felt was very worthwhile indeed. Cherry makes it clear in this book that everyone in the expedition - himself included - was prepared to endure hardships that are almost beyond the imagination of most of us for the sake of adding to mankind's store of knowledge - and in doing so inspires our awed respect and admiration. What they went through in merely reaching the Antarctic continent in the first place is enough to chill the blood. Also, Scott himself is too often dismissed as an incompetent leader who got himself and his men killed - but Cherry redresses that view, and surely no-one is better qualified to make that assessment.
It's unfortunate that the legacy of this expedition, in the public mind, is that of a botched attempt to secure a scrap of glory for the British Empire. If you want to know better, this is the book to read. I may buy another copy just so that I can read it again for the first time.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2007
Cherry-Garrard's book is indeed a treasure. The sensitive portraits that he paints of his fellow explorers, the descriptions of the landscape and conditions and his account of his own travels and exertions put you right there in it with them. Within the measured and maybe repressed framework of his age he writes openly and with a sustained ring of truth, i.e. that this was what he really felt at the time. He indeed paints Scott in a rosy light, but who can blame him after spending so long with Scott in such a closed environment? Scott had many good qualities but above all was a product of his time, of the Royal Navy and Edwardian Britain. With the benefit of hindsight, the expedition could have been better prepared, trained and equipped, but I'm not sure that it could have been better served by the men who were part of it. I recommend Cherry-Garrard's book to anyone interested to read of human determination and companionship in the face of extreme hardship.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2001
I read this book as 'homework' before embarking upon an exploratory expedition to Antarctica. Once I began reading, I literally couldn't stop until I had finished. Cherry-Garrard's gripping and true account of the courage and fortitude of his fellow expeditioners (he plays down his own role in the typically self-effacing manner of the true British gentleman) is an example for anyone facing adversity. His faultless descriptive prose really takes you to the magical land of Anatarctica - if you can't get there to see it yourself, read this book and you will have been there.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2004
It is absolutely impossible, without actually being there, to fully appreciate what the likes of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton went through on their quests to the South Pole. The very fact that it took 3 years of back-breaking, teeth-shattering work, day in day out, just to get five people to the tip of the world suggests that it was tough. But the fact that it was all carried out in sub-zero temperatures, gale-force winds and six months of perpetual darkness demonstrates that these men were a breed apart.
Cherry-Garrard's book is humble, vivid and like the Antarctic air, exceptionally pure. All the emotion is implied rather than told and is more affecting for it. The characters are strong and the setting is described in a matter-of-fact way that avoids flowery prose and hints at the mundanity and monotony of months spent in a freezing tent. The sheer scale of the effort and the tireless fortitude of the men and animals is truly epic.
The book is undoubtedly one of the finest works of travel writing and confirmed my suspicions that people today generally have it far too easy.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2011
The Worst Journey in the World is simply one of the finest books I've ever read. Nowadays with permanent bases in Antarctica, we can forget that at one time exploring the frozen continent was a major undertaking. We have the benefit of modern mapping and GPS; powerful ships that can break through formidably deep ice floes; airplanes that can transport people to the remotest parts of Antarctica; a greater understanding of nutrition and healthcare; and superior technical clothing and tents. Apsley Cherry-Garrard was from a time when the continent was largely unknown and their expedition took them three years away from home, friends and family.
In his early twenties, he has captured the depth of trust and selflessness that all members of the expedition had in each other, while facing the greatest challenges that many of them will have ever faced. For some, it was their final challenge.
It's now well-known that Amundsen won the race to the South Pole. Cherry-Garrard does not mention Amundsen often in the early parts of the book. The first time was when Scott received a mischievous telegram in Melbourne while the Terra Nova was making its way to New Zealand - it read simply, "Madeira. Am going South. AMUNDSEN." The sense of shock was palpable, and I could feel his expedition haunting the narrative.
Later, Amundsen's party was discovered, and Cherry-Garrard explained that "for an hour or so we were furiously angry, and we were possessed with an insane sense that we must go straight to the Bay of Whales and have it out with Amundsen and his men". This seems out of character with the stoic philosophy prevalent during the Heroic Age of exploration, but he goes on to say that "we had so completely forgotten the spirit of competition and its sudden intrusion jarred frightfully". Here I think Cherry-Garrard is talking about their feeling of togetherness but I think it's also a feeling of shame at their initial reaction to the presence of Amundsen nearby - their feelings of wanting to "have it out with Amundsen and his men" offended them just as much as the reminder that they were not on their own in the race for the Pole.
While the story is ultimately tragic, the book also has a great sense of humour running through it, especially in the early parts. Describing Bowers and Atkinson dragging sledges up a steep slope, and Bowers following Scott's method of moving without a rest until the top, Atkinson said "I don't mind you as a rule, but there are times when I positively hate you".
The animals suffered greatly, especially the ponies. Scott said, "this is the end of the Pole" after the loss of some ponies and the difficulties and dangers they encountered, sending him into a kind of despair that made him doubt their abilities to reach the Pole. However, there was also a sense of never giving in, and so Scott's quote can also be about the Pole falling under their feet one day.
Of course, Scott's expedition wasn't just about reaching the Pole; science played a central role. As Nansen said, "the history of the human race is a continual struggle from darkness towards light". The party believed this to their core, and even while the final polar party was struggling back from the Pole, starving and running out of fuel, they still carried rock specimens with them, and throughout the three years of the expedition, meteorological and geological measurements were taken endlessly and the wildlife studied.
Not the least of these scientific endeavours was Cherry-Garrard, Bowers and Wilson's expedition to retrieve Emperor penguin eggs. This Winter Journey was one which affected Cherry-Garrard deeply and he could never forget, coming close to death. During their first winter, Cherry-Garrard found time to record both the beauty and the desolation of the Antarctic, "every now and then there comes a sharp crack like a pistol shot; it is the ice contracting in the glaciers of Erebus, and you know that it is getting colder. Your breath smokes, forming white rime over your face, and ice in your beard; if it is very cold you may actually hear it crackle as it freezes in mid air!"
Much has been said over the years about whether Scott made poor decisions, but I think he was victim to misfortune more than anything. His legacy lives on, and Cherry-Garrard is to be thanked for this magnificent work. The men who made this journey were tirelessly brave and never complained even while suffering from cold and hunger and nearing death. This book is a monument to their memories.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2005
This has to go down as one of the most depressing yet exhilarating books ever to have been written. The sheer desolateness of the Antarctic landscape coupled by bad planning allow the reader to foresee the desperate conclusion to Scotts second expedition to the South Pole almost from the first chapter. Firstly the motorised sledges intended for the polar journey refuse to work in the -47C temperatures, the ponies used by Scott for pulling the sledges struggle from the start and the near-suicidal mission to collect Emperor penguin eggs from the birds' winter retreat uses up vast amounts of supplies and stamina. (The eggs later lie forgotten for months in the Natural History Museum). This book removes any romanticism from polar exploration: it takes nearly an hour to defrost a sleeping bag, don't expect more than four hours sleep per night, be prepared to shoot and cut up your faithfull pony for meat and spend half your time trying to stop your sled-dogs from eating each other. Although the conclusion of the journey is well known this is still a throughly engrossing book, just add a few maps in any furue reprint.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2007
A fantastic gripping harrowing account of what the author rightly calls The Worst Journey iin the World. he should know he was there!
The youngest member of Scott's team who later formed the rescue party that eventually found the frozen bodies of Scott and the three men who had made the final effort to reach the Pole.
Ignore the reviewer who casts against this edition. It was obviously a poor copy of the book that made the pages fall out! I have read this book and I have 2 friends who have their own copies and the pages remain firm.
Please, do not be put off from buying what is a masterpiece of work.