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on 30 November 2003
This book is not a history of polar exploration. Whilst it does work its linear way through the names, tragedies, heroism, prejudices and unabashed ineptitude of British assaults on the poles, from the 17th century to Scott & Shackleton, it owes more to psychology, anthropology, and literature, than simple, chronologically-listed tales.
It is a valuable addition for anybody with a stock of Roland Huntford biographies, or any of the many boy's own-style books about the Endurance expedition. It places these tales in a psychological landscape. For anyone who wonders 'why?' these guys did what they did, this book attempts to get behind their eyes and show you.
It is beautifully written. The density of Spufford's style demands that you pour over every line, every word. It is not a book to be rushed. It is one of the best-written non-fiction book's I have ever read - for its use of language. There are some stunningly beautiful passages, as well as interesting accounts of Dickens' and George Bernard Shaw's roles in the history of the poles. The use of ice and snow in Moby Dick and Frankenstein has you looking as these works in a totally new way - not as singular works of genius and originality, but as stories using the common theme of the day at a time when everybody wanted a piece of the poles (much as novelists now write about Big Brother and text messages).
Despite this, it probably is a book only for lovers of extreme exploration, as it is quite a marginal subject, even in the face of the recent Shackleton-mania. But for the armchair Scotts/Shackletons/Amundsens out there, reading it will make your year. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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on 2 June 2003
This book contains some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. The last chapter (towards which the book builds) steps out of fact and into speculative fiction so linguistically perfect and poetical that, on public transport, the poundingly of your heart will seriously disturb fellow passengers. Read it. It's wonderful.
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on 4 July 2011
To echo some other reviews this is one of the best non-fiction books I have read.
Spuffords exemplary style mixes detailed research with carefully (almost lovingly) selected quotations from literature,memoir,history and hagiography to tell the story of how the great polar landscapes have been imagined as well as explored and how parallels with literature help illustrate the icy thought-world of White out landscapes and heroic but often myopic Brit explorers. There are brilliant chapters covering both the societies and mores that created the need to explore these crevasse filled,ice-laden, remote polar territories and the people left behind- wives like Lady Jane Franklin whose whole personal identity was latterly defined by the search for the bodies of the Franklin expedition and the horror stories of supposed cannibalism.Spufford writes long unrelenting and demanding chapters saved by the brilliance of his wordplay and the complexity of his analysis.
There are startling portraits of key people- Captain Oates whose famously reported last words give us the books title sitting in a hospital bed in Delhi writing to his mother having just found out he is part of the Scott expedition- startling juxtapositions and brilliantly evocative writing.
This book is not always an easy read but there are moments that make you quite breathless and dizzy with the quality of the prose. Highly recommended even if you wouldn't normally touch a book on polar exploration. This is so
much more. Ice ice baby

Sent from my iPhone
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I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book, after all the cover does say it's about how the poles and the explorers who went there are percieved, rather than being actually about them. I found this book to rather over-analyse the whole concept, trying to get right into a mindset that doesn't work that way - explorers and adventurers *do* rather than think, and to me this book rather missed that point.
It's fantastically well written, though the worming into the fine detail left me wishing the author would hurry up and get to the point - not a style that appeals to me - though I can see how many would thoroughly enjoy this book.
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on 7 February 2016
This book offers a very interesting panorama of Polar history and exploratory ambition, but sometimes the episodic nature of the book is a disadvantage. However, I May Be Some Time should be lauded for its interdisciplinary approach.
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on 22 January 2006
After reading the other reviews on this site I thought I would give this book a go, having read a lot of the actual "pole exploration" books.
The target of this book, to appreciate the imagination, rather than the doing is admirable. One of the beginning chapters tries to define what Sublime meant to people in earlier times. The trouble is it went on, and on, and on, not really getting anywhere.
This book is about the imagination of armchair literary types, pontificating about linguistic philosophy. If thats you, then you will love the prose. However, even the best poems dont ramble in my opinion. They eloquently make the point using well positioned words.
For me, if Mr.Spufford were to go back and summarise this work, and half the length, it would achieve a lot more.
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