Scott's Last Journey: The Race for the Pole Hardcover – 1 Nov 1999
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Published in 1999, the book consists of a version of Robert Falcon Scott's diary which was found on his body in 1912, following his death with 4 companions on his return from the South Pole. The diary is interspersed by a series of Herbert Ponting's superb photographs as well as an annotated commentary by Peter King, who describes himself as the book's editor.
I have to say that having read Scott's diary previously, I purchased the book for two reasons. Firstly for Ponting's photographs and secondly because having originally retailed for £20, it was freely available on Amazon for pennies. Those photographs have since been made available in another publication alongside Hurley's photographs of the Shackleton's Transantarctic expedition (The Heart of the Great Alone - 2011) , but if you want to see Ponting cheaply, then this book may still be worth buying.
But in my view, that is all it is worth buying for. I found King's annotated commentary totally unedifying and rather an irritant. It purports to enable the reader to gain a balanced view of Scott's merits or otherwise as an explorer, but in fact relies heavily on Roland Huntford's assassination of Scott, as published in his 1979 work (Scott and Amundsen). The commentary constantly repeats Huntford's assertions and rather ignores the context of Scott's journey. Sentences beginning with 'perhaps' or 'possibly' abound which are the precursor for King to offer his own opinion on an issue. On at least two occasions he also takes Scott's son, Sir Peter Scott to task in a way which I found quite irrelevant.
The book has two further odd elements. It begins with a Foreword by Beryl Bainbridge. This is taken from elsewhere and was not written for this book.Read more ›
Here you have the story as told by Captain Scott in his own journal. Written while undertaking this endeavour step by step, surely this is as close as we are going to get to what actually happened. To interpret these words from our "celebrity of nothing" culture is to fall extremely short.
Scott was an "officer and a gentleman" something I really do not think we'll understand from today's viewpoint. Scott was exploring not racing. He'd been there before with Shackleton and polar exploration was completely different from kitting out solely for speed and nothing more. Sure Amundsen got there first but what did he bring back with him other than the fact that he'd got there?
Also, if it really was a race then it was very unequal. When Scott started his journey on the 1st November 1911, Huntford tells us, Amundsen was already 200 miles ahead! What sort of race was that? Also, Amundsen had already camped 60 miles closer than Scott in the first instance and had used the deception that he was going north to gain an unsurmountable advantage.
This is a great book, it puts the record straight by giving us the record - as it stands - without any axe grinding, tub thumping, or egotism.
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