The facts everyone knows are that Scott got thrashed on his mission to the South Pole first and died on the return, and even Peter Mandelson would find it difficult to spin this as a success.
This book attempts to explain why this occurred, and sets out a dispassionate and non-jingoistic thesis that Scott failed because he did not learn lessons from other explorers, did not heed advice and generally planned and executed poorly. Other Amazon reviewers regard this as character assassination, but Scott comes across as a magnificent but tragic figure, whose personal shortcomings explain the failure of his mission. To those who view Scott as unimpeachably heroic, this doesn't sit easily.
Scott got thrashed to the South Pole by a lean, well-drilled team from an upstart nation (Norway having only achieved nationhood in 1905) which used appropriate technology and guerilla tactics.
The heroic Brits were trying to do it by majestic brute force - metaphorically and literally - and failed. There are obvious parallels to the contemporaneous fading of the British Empire.
This is a fast-paced and grippingly read story about some of the last epic explorers, and I very much enjoyed it, and also the CDs about Shackleton's Endurance expedition - an even more ripping yarn:
I don't know if Huntford's family were wronged by the Scotts in years gone by but you could be forgiven for thinking that after this. The bias towards the Norwegians has pretty much pushed me the opposite way. Here's my rant ! Scott's concept of "A victory more nobley and splendidly won" through man-hauling to the pole was in the whole spirit of their time and ours. Robert Peary had already discovered the North Pole and there was a reasonalbe expectation that there wasnt going to be a crock of gold or superman's ice palace at the South Pole so getting there was partly a scientific venture but mainly just for glory. Scott did it without killing animals who hadn't signed up to die. He did it whilst achieving one of the most impressive physical feats in history. He did it with boxes full of scientific gear and samples and with no concept of a race initially in mind and he never abandoned his men or his principles It's also worth noting that he was following Shackletons footsteps and methods but with more pulling power and food to go the extra 100 miles. Common sense. Basically he achieved glory but died. Amundsen wasn't so concerned with science, showed up with only winning fame in mind, gambled his mens lives on unknown territory purely to ensure that he was first, ditched his crew on the way home, ran almost all of his dogs to death on purpose and ate them which is ironic as technically his dogs, ahead of his sleds were the first beings to arrive at the Pole. That will always win races but not necesarily hearts. From the respectful quotations after the Scott team was discovered, I think Amundsen realised that. Shame Huntsford didn't.
Amundsen good, Scott bad, with no grey inbetween. Amundsen has no money, leaves his crew abandoned in S. America, just one of those things. Everything that befalls Scott is due to bad planning. A splendid piece of character assassination. A travesty.