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on 7 February 2014
I've been a fan of Mr. Allen's writing for a good long time. From his first BBC series The Skeleton Coast, I was hooked by his minimalistic, bares bones ideal of exploration, his attitude that the landscape should leave it's impression on the traveller, not the other way around. While his writing style has varied by his own admission - Mad White Giant being the account of a naive traveller biting off more that he can chew and Through Jaguar Eyes, in my opinion, being his best (and most conventional) travel book - Into the Abyss changes tack again, the same author aiming for something a little bit different, asking the question that many have asked him - what drives people to survive?

His previous diaries, published as the Skeleton Coast and Edge of Blue Heaven recorded the trials of completing previously undocumented routes across some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet. Into the Abyss takes the same kind of impossible-to-complete journey, but flavours it with vivd portraits of the characters that he meets along the way, and presents an almost sympathetic portrait of the environment that you feel is ready to snuff out his chances of return at every turn. The author is fully aware that in the deserts or the arctic, he is a mere interloper, not meant to be there. The dogs (or camels in the desert) and the indigenous people are far more suited to living in the arctic than he can ever be.

The key thing about Allen's travels is the number of times he fails, and how he finds strength through failure. Often he sets off with everyone telling him how impossible his trip, how the time of year is wrong, and how often he is told by those who allegedly know better to come back in six months when the timing is better. Perhaps the Englishness of the wry observations put readers off, but I honestly can't find fault with this book as other reviewers have.

Benedict lays bare the truth about going it alone and make no bones about how he feels, he gets it wrong many times and admits that his own inexperienced way of doing things is to blame, but he manages to live to tell the tale.
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on 28 September 2006
Where does one start with a book like this? My first impression as I found my self absorbed into the prose was that this has a very different feel from Benedict's other books. Perhaps it's because this is a very different environment to the others he has placed himself into before, the icy tundra of Siberia being a far cry from the jungles and deserts of previous journeys. Yet there are similarities. For a man who has spent the last 20+ years of his life deliberately putting himself into harms way in order to understand such places and peoples who inhabit them, one could argue there surely couldn't be so much difference?

And yet there is, there's something in this book that tugs at something deeper. Something ponderous and searching.

Ostensibly it's about Benedict's thousand mile trek with dogs through Siberia about 5 years ago and the thoughts that come out of that experience. As usual as the reader one finds oneself travelling with him through the highs and the lows; untested guides, being forced to learn to use someone else's dog team in a fraction of the time actually necessary, the ever encroaching decay of post soviet alcholism, a positively 'Eastenders'-esque scrap in Provideniya and of course, nearly dying in the Bering Straight...

I for one never fail to be carried along with it all, and came close to tears by chapter 40.

But as you can guess from the title, this is more than a geographical journey.

We travel through time, and through mind, listening to the thoughts and exploits of other outsiders trying to survive in hostile environments in the past and present, as well as that of our author, -who's had more than sufficient experience to comment. As we journey, Benedict's notes to himself become notes to us too. To begin with you could perhaps find yourself thinking you could skip the asides if you think yourself familiar with the subject, but as you draw closer to the end and the thoughts start to condense on the pages, you realise they're not just notes to self, asides for the reader, it's almost a form of 'thinking out loud' above the narrative. This is what he was thinking about, what was going round in his head as he tried to remind himself, rationalise, crystallise, survive.

The dogs too, the issue of their dependance on him and his responsibility for them and their lives as well as his own completes something that began back with 'Mad White Giant' and the terrible decision he had to make back then in order to survive when he was young and alone dying in the jungle. What would he do this time, several decades on, alone in the tundra when faced with the same problem?

It's highly tempting to psychoanalyse, as this is something that plays out in the psyche as well as in the environment. But it's better perhaps that you read it yourself and come to your own conclusions. There's something about it that lingers on long after you've put it down, and I find myself still mulling it over, turning the ideas over in my mind as I turned the pages a few days ago and am already debating re-reading it.

An amazing read, I feel like I've been to Siberia and back with him, a part of myself I think is still there. The author too I think.

So, the answer to the questions; 'Why do explorers put them selves in danger?' and 'How do any of us find the determination to keep going in times of despair?' Well, you'll have to make the journey with him...
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on 3 September 2013
This unassuming Englishman is one of our greatest adventure explorers - a national treasure! His attempts to just set off into the largely unknown are legendary and on this occasion he inspired me to sample running my own team of 6 dogs in the relative safety of Finland. Brilliant!
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on 13 April 2014
Wonderfull to revisit with Mr. Allen's adventure in the wilds of frozen Syberia. The writing is excellent with clean clear narrative.

After reading I shall put away for a few months just to have the oppertunity to revisit.
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on 24 October 2014
its ok but to start with but found it a bit long winded and it did not keep my attention
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on 25 November 2006
I was so impressed with this book when I reed it. I have been reading this genre for many years now and this is truely finest. It is not only educated and comprehensive but human.

It is very sad that such honest account should be wrongly and innacurately criticised, and to make such comments after reading properly would be laying.

An excellent also captivating true story as well as thought provoking analysis of exploration.

Is better than anything I could do!
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on 11 September 2007
The synopsis of this book tells the whole story about the book, its content and the author. Tells the story how little attention is paid to the detail and how much attention to general impression. Obviously the synopsis of paperback edition is edited form hardcover edition. The Shakelton is now Shackleton, but Ranulf remained with out change and it should be Ranulph. Unfortunately, the book is full of similar errors and omissions. I wonder was this book proof read by someone with a good knowledge about the Polar Regions and history. But then the whole book would be at the question? I wonder in what way Simpson, Fiennes and for that matter the author are the modern counterparts of Columbus, Cortez,… Never mind, the lecturing only counts. As a Polar history expert I do not recommend this book.
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on 20 November 2006
I loved this book. With his graphic descriptive style, I felt I was looking over Benedict Allen's shoulder as he undertook this journey with a team of recalcitrant dogs in the hope of crossing the Bering Strait in 2001.

I got a sense that all was not going to plan when Allen arrived after being delayed because of appalling weather to discover that although the dogs on whom he was to rely were waiting for him, their owner wasn't. He didn't know their names, their strengths and weaknesses, or the necessary commands. For their part, the dogs not only completely ignored Allen, but showed little interest in his replacement guides, Yasha and Tolia, both experienced dog handlers.

His admiration for his guides, especially the indomitable Yasha, who try to prepare him for the journey ahead; his exasperation with, yet obvious affection for his team of dogs, especially the seemingly useless `Bernard', as they gradually begin to trust him; his despair as his companions consumed copious amounts of any available form of alcohol on arrival at settlements, crumbling and being reclaimed by the landscape following the break up of the Soviet Union; the resilience of people such as the reindeer herders who have made a home in this beautiful but, to me, terrible place where a simple mistake can lead to death within seconds; his vulnerability and determination; and his increasing doubts in his ability to realise his ambition where failure could lead to the death of the dogs as well as himself, are all vividly conveyed.

The book also cleverly features extracts from the notes made by others who have looked Into the Abyss such as Joe Simpson and Captain Scott, as Allen also wonders what it is that compels some people to fight to survive against all odds when, frankly, it would be easier to give up and die. Is it sheer bloody mindedness, or a desire not to die alone?

My only criticism is that I found the boxed inserts containing background information, in the early part of the book, though relevant, distracting, placed as they were in the middle of chapters describing the author's own activities.
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on 27 August 2015
I persevered for 73 pages, but gave up due to waiting for the story to start. Boy does the author drag out his ..... well, his boring waffle. It was so boring and so waffly that I became confused as to what he was actually trying to relay. Anyway... Having read other reviews that confirm my suspicions that the book continues to be boring, I'm giving up. It seems I am not the adventurous type, at least not when it comes to literary endurance anyway.
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on 5 September 2010
As many others have said, there isn't a lot of point in reading this book. It feels as though the author had to write one, but his heart isn't in it, or the talent to tell stories just isn't there. It is simply a dull read of a fairly dull journey. Read something else.
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