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Scott And Amundsen: The Last Place on Earth Paperback – 7 Dec 2000

3.2 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (7 Dec. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349113955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349113951
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.1 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Amazon Review

On December 14, 1911, the classical age of Polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 miles from their next cache of supplies. But it was Scott, ironically, who became the legend, Britain's heroic failure, "a monument to sheer ambition and bull-headed persistence. His achievement was to perpetuate the romantic myth of the explorer as martyr, and... to glorify suffering and self- sacrifice as ends in themselves."

Last Place On Earth is a complex and fascinating account of the race for this last great terrestrial goal. It is also biographer Ronald Huntford's rather heavy-handed attempt to restore Amundsen to glory. Though this was the age of the amateur explorer, Amundsen was a professional: he left little to chance, apprenticed with Eskimos and obsessed over every detail. While Scott clung fast to the British rule of "No skis, no dogs", Amundsen understood that both were vital to survival and they clearly won him the Pole.

Amundsen in Huntford's view is the "last great Viking" and Scott his bungling opposite: "stupid... recklessly incompetent", and irresponsible in the extreme--failings that cost him and his teammates their lives. Yet for all of Scott's real or exaggerated faults, he understood far better than Amundsen the power of a well-crafted sentence. Scott's diaries were recovered and widely published, and if the world insisted on lionising Scott, it was partly because he told a better story. Huntford's bias aside, it's clear that both Scott and Amundsen were valiant and deeply flawed. "Scott... had set out to be an heroic example. Amundsen merely wanted to be first at the pole. Both had their prayers answered." --Svenja Soldovieri --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

In 600 wonderfully researched pages ... Huntford has at last written the 3-dimensional book this immense drama deserves (SPECTATOR)

Gripping ...enthralling ...Handles a great mass of material with exceptional intelligence and skill (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

A brilliant achievement, as readable as an adventure story, as fact filled as an explorer's manual, as compelling as history always is when brought to life (TORONTO STAR 'One of the great debunking biographies')

NEW YORK TIMES (On December 14, 1911, the classical age of Polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 mi)

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I have been meaning to read 'Scott and Amundsen' (The Last Place on Earth) for some time, and have finally got round to it. And I have to say, that despite all its innaccuracies, omissions and one-sided appraisal, I enjoyed it as a book. I found it well written and researched.

It is however written by a journalist and its writing style is more reminiscent of a popular newspaper, than even-handed research. However it should be remembered that it was first published in 1979. At that time, Robert Falcon Scott's achievement in reaching the South Pole in 1912 was still being viewed relatively uncritically. And Amundsen's achievement was relatively unheralded. Huntford was the first to seriously challenge the received wisdom of the Scott/Amundsen expeditions to the Pole. He clearly started with a view that Scott was an inept bungler and by contrast Amundsen was a supremely competent polar explorer, and he set about to put the record straight, as he saw it. In doing so, he went to great lengths to castigate Scott's planning, his methods and his character by means of selective assertions, at every opportunity. So much so, that I as a reader became irritated at the constant repetition. I was less concerned about his views on Amundsen, who I would agree was a great man whose multiple achievements have not always received the acclaim they richly deserve. But even there, Huntford deploys the journalistic style of conveniently omitting any evidence which runs counter to his central assertion. And he virtually invents some of Scott's motivations. And though Huntford certainly went to great lengths to research his material, I was somewhat disappointed that he omitted specific references to his sources.
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This is a great story and Huntford manages to work up the excitement of a unique explorers' race. Amundsen is depicted as a ruthless realist only after the glory of being first. His know-how, leadership and meticulous preparation bring victory. Scott is portrayed as a hopless amateur, poor leader and as responsible for needlessly killing himself and his men. Huntford litters his story with diary extracts and seemingly achieves authenticity. The truth wins out!
Alas, just as Huntford criticises Scott for selective diary re-touches, this is exactly what Huntford himself is guilty of. Left thoroughly convinced of the integrity of this book I went on to read the diaries of three men who were actually there: Scott himself, Evans the second in command and Ponting the photographer. Whilst it is true that following the death of Scott one would expect the two latter would tone down criticism of their former leader, these three original sources completely discount many of Huntfod's claims and clearly demonstrate that Huntford has rather cleverly selected material, omitted facts and misinterpreted events in order to make his theories fit reality. This book is a very good read but an accurate picture of Scott's final expedition it is not. R.Fiennes' 'Captain Scott' also methodically rips to shreds Huntford's spurious claims with concrete facts and written evidence from all concerned with the expedition and is throughly recommended for a much more balanced assesment of Scott.
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I must say at the start that I found this book very entertaining and a real page turner. I already have read some works about the exploration of the South Pole, but this book was by far the most readable, I found myself picking it up at every opportunity.
The way that Huntford writes is very compelling, and I shall certainly be reading his book about Shackleton.
However, this praise comes with a but, and it is a big but.
I am not aware if Huntford has a grudge against Scott and his family, but this must be the least objective book I have ever read. Amundsen is praised from the off, and hardly comes in for any criticism at all, even though his methods of man management at times left a lot to be desired. As did his deception of his men, his creditors and his friend and mentor Nansen.
There is never a word of praise or respect for Scott or any of his team. Huntford attaches psychological analysis that he cannot possibly support, to many of Scott’s men. His character assassination of Dr Edward Wilson is particularly harsh. At Wilson’s death he writes ‘he was a born loser, that he understood’. This is terribly unfair, considering the great respect and affection that ‘Uncle Bill’ was held in by most of Scott’s party, and his achievement in reaching the Pole, even though Amundsen was first.
Huntford seems to have the American obsession with winners and losers. After the suicide of Johansen, years after the Norwegians return home, who Amundsen shunned after an argument on the expedition, Huntford says that Johansen paid the loser’s penalty .
Ultimately I would agree that the Norwegians prepared better, were better organised, more thorough, and left nothing to chance, and deserved their victory.
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The other reviews some this book up well. When I bought it, I was well aware that it would be an anti-Scott account of his life. I was taken aback by how one-sided and vitriolic it was. Barely a paragraph goes past without Huntford giving Scott a kicking in some way, construing the tiniest detail to be another example of a character-failing on the part of Scott. It can get a little tiring after a while. What's more, I feel sometimes Huntford fails to give enough evidence at times - talking about Scott being passed over for promotion when all of his colleagues were progressing - but he failed to give examples and names of these colleagues.

All of that said, I couldn't put it down. The 'attitude' of the author is rather amusing, since it's written which such spite that one can only assume that Scott's family in some way cheated Huntford out of an inheritance or systematically bullied an ancestor in some way. It's like watching one half of a blazing row.

The other thing to point out is that other biographies - and hagiographies - are available. If this were the only book on Scott, it would be a tragedy, but it isn't. In the canon of work on the man, it's useful to have someone build a strong case against. I plan to read another biography of Scott for balance, but I'm glad Huntford went out of his way to compile this vicious account.
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