on 22 August 2013
'Mind over Matter', written some 20 years ago, tells of the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent - and this by Ranulph Fiennes and his colleague Dr Mike Stroud. Its title is spot-on. For though the physical conditions encountered were enough to beat most men and women, it is the mind which overcomes them, and this Fiennes is at great pains to demonstrate.
20 years later, Sir Ranulph has become a legend in his own time - his accomplishments are unparalleled - mountain climbing - polar crossings - serial marathon running etc. etc. are achievements which no-one will emulate, though his recent evacuation following frostbite during the current attempt at the first winter crossing of Antarctica, demonstrates that he is only human after all! Any who may not know of the man and his exploits should read his 2007 book 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know' to get the full picture.
I am an avid admirer of Fiennes. But this review is not of his exploits, but of his book 'Mind over Matter'. And I have to say, that as a book, it did not grip me as have many that Fiennes and others have written concerning their polar journeys. To its credit, it certainly gets across the mind-numbing physical onslaught on the bodies of the two travellers, as well as the tortuous psychological torment. Just imagine slogging for 68 days to get to the Pole, just to stay there for a few hours, to refuse any temptation of hospitality at the Pole station, and to walk on! It also has some excellent photographs and some revealing insights into the experiences of other well-known historical and modern explorers who had travelled in polar regions. But I found the frequent musings on parallel aspects of the journey, interesting though they were in their own right, served mainly to interrupt the narrative and cause a certain amount of frustration in me, the reader. In addition, some aspects, such as Fiennes concern that he might undermine Stroud's morale if he suggested they might curtail their mission, were repeated ad nauseam. A good editor might have suggested some modifications to greatly enhance the book's appeal.
One thing that surprised me in this book was his rather benign view of Roland Huntford - the author who sought to denigrate Robert Falcon Scott's achievements in his 1979 book 'Scott and Amundsen'. In his 2004 defence of Scott (see 'Captain Scott'), Fiennes is anything but benign to Scott's detractor - so something must have happened to change his view so radically.
But who am I to criticise a man whose achievements I envy, and whose accomplishments I could never approach? He has written better books, but the exploits of which he writes are supreme.
on 16 February 2012
I first read this book in the mid - nineties and came back to it recently. Ranulph Feinnes and Mike Stroud 'man-hauled' sledges across Antarctica. Needless to say, it is a harrowing, dangerous journey. The account of the ever-changing relationship between the two men as they push themselves to the limit and beyond, is fascinating. They suffer snowblindness, hypothermia and gangrene and, though they were eating 6000 calories a day - still lost weight!! I loved this for the sheer adventure and determination of these men to succeed at the task they had set themselves.
Reviewed by Wendy Unsworth
Author of 'The Palaver Tree'