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An excellently crafted and definitive work.
on 21 July 2009
On the cover of my copy of this book is a head and shoulders photograph of Scott which, almost eerily, reminds me of a similar study of author Ranulph Fiennes from another work. These two men have more in common than just the South Pole.
Over the years, Scott has come in for considerable criticism particularly by those who have no understanding of the subject. This can be likened to a non-driver who believes he is able to describe exactly what it is like to survive a racing car crash at over 180 mph. Personally, I want to hear the driver's account. Scott, however, did not survive his final expedition and that is why so many "non-drivers" believe themselves qualified to comment on his life, his achievements and, of course, his death - and do so from the warmth and safety of whatever centrally-heated base camp they occupy.
Such armchair experts deliberately set out to uncover whatever flaws exist in the makeup of any person who achieves greatness and often invent defects which never existed. They do so in order to reduce that person to whatever common level is occupied by themselves. Consequently, Scott has been subjected to the wrath of writers whose own understanding of hardship is limited to the inconvenience of running out of petrol on a motorway. It takes, therefore, an explorer and writer of the magnitude of Ranulph Fiennes to produce an accurate biography of Captain Scott if only because he possesses an unparalleled understanding of the subject, of the man, of the hardships and of the drive and ambition - because he too has been there and done that. Add to that, the simple fact that Ranulph Fiennes is also able to provide an outstanding "read" and this book does supreme justice to the topic.
Ranulph Fiennes has led many expeditions, has conquered both Poles and in 2009 climbed Everest at the age of 65! Whilst this book is about Scott and not the author, they are relevant factors when considering the content. In an outstanding and excellently crafted work, Captain Scott is revealed in a way not seen before - if only because no previous author had the expertise to understand what happened and why. As Scott and his life are revealed page by page, so Fiennes tackles each success, each obstacle, each failure and each point of later criticism as it was reached in the life of the man himself. Expertly drawing on his own relevant experiences precisely at the right time, Fiennes provides the reader with a thorough awareness of exactly what confronted Scott. In explaining each occurrence, he offers the reader a thorough comprehension of the situation and the attendant problems so that we are finally able to understand. And it all comes about because both subject and author are, in many ways, kindred spirits.
That said, this is not a work of hero worship. Certainly not. This is an honest appraisal of a great man who had equally great flaws in is character and eventually caused other men to die. It is, therefore, an exposé of the truth behind that man and of the legend he has become. Along the way each myth is not just discounted, it is considered almost as though a formal commission is tasked with establishing the truth. By adopting this approach, Ranulph Fiennes provides a long-overdue definitive account of the life of Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Perhaps, he may now be finally allowed to Rest in Peace.