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1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica Hardcover – 6 Sep 2012
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"A gripping account of the race to the South Pole, 1912 is a celebration of pioneering explorers and their awe-inspiring achievements. Turney brings the Antarctic adventure to life" (Sir Ranulph Fiennes)
"1912 is a great achievement – an insightful, fascinating and rigorously researched page-turner. Even seasoned Antarctic enthusiasts will find something new here. Fluent throughout, the passages on Antarctic science are beautifully clear. It reveals much not only about the way our planet works, but the debt that scientists like Turney owe each of the six expeditions of a century ago" (Gavin Francis, author of Empire Antarctica)
"In this highly informative and fitting account Chris Turney reminds us of the legacy left by the polar giants of the Edwardian age – not tracks in the snow heading South, but a body of scientific discovery, analysis and reports that opened up the continent for the first time and continues to inform scientists today" (Henry Worsley)
"As well as casting the Scott–Amundsen rivalry in a completely new light...Turney also unearths documents that appear to show a cover-up in the way the demise of Scott's Polar party was reported... It is perhaps for this single historical discovery that [Turney] will be best remembered" (The Scotsman)
"Alongside the science, Turney weaves the human story of that year, and in a fascinating appendix he uncovers new evidence" (Literary Review)
The enthralling tale of the epic race for the poles and its larger-than-life participants.See all Product description
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For myself as an avid reader of Antarctic history much was already known. But I still found a much of interest.
It's a really good jumping off point for going into further reading.
However, 1912 was the year in which this all changed and, as such, Chris Turney convincingly suggests that it should be seen as marking the height of the Heroic Age of Exploration. Curiosity about Antarctica reached its apogee between 1910 and 1914 when five teams of intrepid explorers set out on the greatest race of the age, a competition to see who would be the first to travel beyond the edges of the known world and conquer the treacherous, frozen wastes of Antarctica.
As well as a thirst for scientific knowledge and a desire to better understand our planet, the race to conquer Antarctica was also fuelled in no small part by a desire for national glory as each of the five teams heading south represented a different country. Pitted against each other [and with more than a little help from their teams] in the quest for immortal exploration glory were Captain Robert Falcon Scott from Britain, Roald Amundsen from Norway, Douglas Mawson from Australia, Wilhelm Filchner from Germany and Nobu Shirase from Japan. Although it was Roald Amundsen who ultimately triumphed, 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica reveals that there was far more to the story of the race for the South Pole than that.
The adventures involved on the exploration of Antarctica proved just as exciting to the general public in 1912 as they do today. Each of the five teams who headed south went to great lengths [although not always with great success] to publicise their journeys through books, lecture tours, newspaper articles and interviews, records, and photographs so as to enthral the people back home. Turney uses the first person accounts of these larger-than-life explorers to bring his narrative to life in a powerful and informative fashion. While the tragedy that befell Scott's expedition and the success of Amundsen's are still well known today, the other three expeditions have rather faded into obscurity and so to hear of their journeys, hardships and triumphs in their own words is an excellent way to recapture the public's interest. Turney also discusses the cynical manipulation of the news about Scott's expedition and the way that certain of the nation's scientific giants thought it best to keep some of the truth of Antarctica away from the general public.
Chris Turney is able to use his own polar experience to discuss the circumstances that the explorers found themselves in and the kind of privations that they has to endure in the quest for scientific understanding. Although modern visitors to Antarctica have far better supplies and equipment, they too have to face temperatures cold enough to shatter teeth, winds that can easily knock a man down and avoid crevasses in the ice from which there would be no escape. To travel across Antarctica is to encounter as much danger as wonder; as well as fighting the elements, the explorers had to combat starvation, frostbite, snow blindness and the occasional bout of polar madness. It's frankly amazing that anyone made it to the Pole and lived to tell the [coherent] tale.
1912 is a gripping account of the race to the South Pole. Chris Turney masterfully succeeds in bringing out the different personalities and motivations of the principle explorers and recreating their experiences. For a well-researched, detailed historical account, it still manages to be an exciting page-turner that keeps readers hooked as the differing expeditions head south with varying degrees of success.
The book includes plenty of historical detail, and accounts of the lesser-known 1912 explorers such as Filchner (Germany) and Shirase (Japan), as well as reference to earlier expeditions by Ross and Borschgrevink. Prof Turney makes good use of his own personal experience in Antarctica to put the decisions made by the explorers, and criticisms later made of them, into a practical context.
Something I had not read elsewhere was the tantalizing hint of a "scandal" (pp 287-294) which had possibly cost the lives of Scott and his 4 companions who returned from the Pole. It was perhaps very properly "hushed up" by Lord Curzon and the wives of the protagonists at the time, who edited offending references out of their husbands' diaries. However, since Prof Turney had raised this possibility, and since few other historians mention it, it would have been helpful to have it examined more thoroughly than is done in these pages.
Given that Amundsen was first to the South Pole, and that bagging this prize was clearly the over-riding ambition of all of the expedition leaders, it was a little disappointing that there was not more detail and discussion of Amundsen's expedition. For example, detail of the Norwegian team's trek to the Pole, and discussion of Amundsen's decision to pitch his base camp on the unstable ice barrier instead of seeking solid ground. Was the latter a very fortunate gamble to save valuable time so that Amundsen could get to the Pole quicker? Or a "no-brainer" application of his extensive experience of Arctic ice?
On a few points Professor Turney reveals that he does not know what he is writing about. On p 16 he states that there are 2 different magnetic poles in each hemisphere, but his explanation suggests that he is describing the same thing - the magnetic "dipole" or "bar magnet" - rather than contrasting this with much weaker "quadrupole" components. On p 296 he describes neutrinos as "electrically negative... one of the building blocks of atoms," possibly confusing them with both electrons and neutrons. Reading these errors made me question the accuracy of his other claims, which I had taken on trust.
Prof Turney's closing chapters emphasise the scientific importance of Antarctica. This is amply demonstrated throughout the book, particularly in relation to meteorology and oceanography. However, he goes too far in claiming on p 294 that "Scott and his men died for science." [On the other hand, this claim could be literally true, since Scott's party foolishly wasted precious time and effort collecting and carrying 35 lb of geological samples on their return journey.] Only a few pages later (p 300) he quotes Shackleton's contradictory "perceptive point" that the motivation of every expedition to Antarctica was to "do spectacular things" and to get to the South Pole.
Despite my criticisms, I recommend this book as a very enjoyable and informative read.
I didn't have any problem at all with the author's style of writing and thought he met in full the objectives of the book, namely to put into context the various expeditions to Antarctica during that period in history. I applaud too the author's closing comments extolling the ongoing need for the effective communication of scientific discovery to inspire present and future generations. That is surely the lasting legacy of all the Antarctic explorers of that time and one which I felt Chris Turney conveyed very effectively.
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