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on 30 March 2002
For those hooked on the late Victorian explorers and their feats of derring-do, Susan Solomon's book is a very readable update of the Scott saga.
Ms Solomon takes us through the tragedy stage by stage but with an empathy attributable to one who has spent some time in the Antarctic. The well known blunders (tractors falling through the ice, inexperienced men (and ponies) stranded on ice floes) are detailed but not laboured into an anti-Scott polemic.
Where this book really comes into its own is in its discussion of the last weeks on the Ross ice shelf and indeed on the last 9 days of stormbound gotterdamerung. Ms Solomon is a meteorologist and has had a good look again at the reports of the expedition meteorologist, George Simpson. Despite the somewhat misleading blurb, although extreme cold was a probable factor in the fatal decline of party this was not unforeseen by Scott. Various medical factors are also investigated and theories of relapse due to scurvy are laid to rest. Ms Solomon gives good evidence that the final storm, which is the assumed cause of demise, could never have been of 9 days' duration and probably lasted no more than 4 days (intriguingly the figure crossed out in Scott's final letter).
So what did happen in those final nine days? As the author implies the reasons for the denouement, at least in the case of Bowers and Wilson, probably lie in the realms of psychology rather than physiology. They both probably could have made it to the One Ton Depot and survived, but to have left Scott, in the way modern climbers abandon their dead as encumbrances to personal survival, was to men of their time unthinkable.
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on 12 January 2002
This is an excellent book, the research that has gone into it puts most modern writing, with its 'skim the surface' approach to analysis and understanding, to shame. Solomon uses her scientific expertise to delve into Scott's last expedition, a subject that obviously became very close to her heart too. The only questions I had after reading this book were what really happened to Bowers and Wilson; questions that can never be answered. Please don't miss this book if you are in any way interested in the Antarctic. The hard back edition is also beautifully presented.
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on 31 December 2007
Given that Soloman's Scott account is from a Scientist's perspective I thought I was going to be in for a hard read. I couldn't have been more wrong. Well written and well researched, Soloman smoothly guides the reader over the scientific complexities with a style not unlike a detective novel - in itself a mark of distinction.

However, to say that this is a vindication of Captain Scott's fatal expedition is, at the very least, an enthusiastic overstatement promulgated, I suspect, by Scott devotees desperate to reincarnate the misguided glory bestowed on him for the first decade or so after his and his men's deaths.

Nevertheless, as a scientific explanation, Solomon offers the reader a completely new and refreshing breakaway from the Victorian and Edwardian commentaries that have hitherto stacked the `Antarctic Expedition' book shelves.

Refreshing, informative, probing and, not least, a damn good read.
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on 20 February 2002
For anyone interested in the story of Antarctic exploration in the early years of the 20th century, this book is indispensable. From start to finish, I found it hard to put down. A senior scientist and expert on the Antarctic "ozone hole", Susan Solomon writes from personal experience of the extremes of Antarctic weather. Although the story of Captain Scott's tragic final expedition is well known, it seems to have become "fashionable" in recent decades to deride him as a bumbling amateur who led his men needlessly to their deaths. Drawing on the latest scientific research from Antarctica, combined with years of meteorological statistics, Solomon shows how Scott's polar party was overwhelmed by low temperatures which the best planning could never have anticipated and which are only experienced in about one year out of 15 in Antarctica. I found Solomon's arguments all the more impressive given her own scientific background, and as an American she could hardly be accused of lapsing into misplaced patriotic support for Scott. While the science in this book is impressive, it never detracts from a superbly written account of human grit and determination in the face of ultimately overwhelming conditions. Although I have read other accounts of Scott's final days and the discovery of the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, Solomon's account combines a careful and detailed presentation of the facts with genuine humanity and compassion. I sincerely hope that any student of Antarctic exploration who has been swayed by the rather mean-spirited and one-sided arguments of Roland Huntford will read this fine book and ponder on its revelations.
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on 2 April 2002
I bought this book because of the reviews I saw on this page. I wasn't sure about it because they all seemed to underline the science aspect, and a scientific outlook is the last thing I have, but this was a fantastic read. Susan Soloman may be a first rate scientist, but above that she had an excellent writing style. She made me feel like I was there, she moved me to tears, she interested me in the modern scientific approach, she made me think about what it must have been like there, what the equipment must have been like. Truly this is a 'can't put it down' book, even if you've never been interested in polar exploration try this book, it'll hook you!
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on 30 October 2001
A great read. Susan Solomon superbly combines the human tradegedy of Scott's doomed expedition with new scientific insight. The story is gripping throughout for those analyticaly minded and for those wanting to understand the personalities involved. How fitting that the reputation of Scott, who was himself scientifically minded, should be restored by an accomplished scientist.
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on 1 January 2007
Over the years we have had various books which have either castigated or lauded Scott. Here is one at last which gives a fair and frank review of his strengths and failings. It de-bunks many of the myths which have grown around Scott (e.g. his decision not to use dogs for the full journey was not because of any public school ideal about wanting to achieve the great feat by the toil of fine Englishmen alone, but rather was because of his and others previous poor experiences with dogs in the antarctic.)

The book also fairly re-assesses the comparison of Scott to his great rival Shackleton. In the years since their exploits, Shakleton has been elevated by many to near mythical status in polar exploration, while Scott has been lampooned and ridiculed as a public school amateur. The fact is that many of the "failures" for which scott has been criticised were actually tried and tested in Shackletons Nimrod expedition to become the received wisdom of polar exploration (e.g. use of ponies, suitability of dogs).

That said, Scott was not without his shortcomings, and these are fairly and frankly assessed in this book.

A better and more informed read than those one-sided accounts of Feinnes, Huntford etc
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on 27 December 2001
I enjoyed reading this book and I think it would appeal to anyone that has read Huntford's "Last Place on Earth". It does much to restore Captain Scott's reputation, probably overdue as a result of Huntford's mauling.
I still don't feel it answers all the questions though. I find it hard to believe that scurvy did not play some part in the demise of Scott and his companions. Also Huntford cites specific days when bad weather meant Scott was unable to march but Amundsen with his dogs continued.
There's doesn't seem much doubt that Amundsen had a much better understanding of living and travelling in such cold conditions and served a long apprenticeship before he felt able to attempt to discover the south pole. Amundsen's men were mostly handpicked specialists whereas Scott's team was lacking in snow/ice experience.
Britain had many fine mountaineers at this time and none where taken south by Scott. He could also have gained the benefit of those with experience of arctic Canada e.g. employees of the Hudson Bay Company etc.
I would say Scott was not the incompetent Huntford makes him out to be but does seem to have made mistakes in the Antarctic that better preparation would have prevented.
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on 15 April 2015
This journey is a balanced one, and settles somewhere between heroism, stupidity and bad luck in terms of why these brave men died. It still amazes me that they could even undertake such a journey at that time. I have experienced temperatures of - 40, and know that normal people need to go inside after five minutes, regardless of what they are wearing! These men were extraordinary, and the book demonstrates this time and time again. It is elegantly written, though I admit to having skipped the introduction to each chapter which puts a modern perspective on the place and time. I would also have appreciated one comprehensive map because I found myself many times foraging for the right one. These two details aside, I found the book very readable, comprehensive and appealing.
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on 12 October 2005
I really enjoyed this book, and re-evaluated my opinion of Captain Scott. I enjoyed the short passages describing the experiences of a fictional antarctic traveller, which set the scene and raised the issues of the upcoming chapter.
In particular, Solomon takes apart the theories of Roland Huntford, and does so with barely a direct reference to him. She has applied science diligently to history and combined it with her own experiences of the antarctic to shed some light on the mysteries of Scott's final days.
The science in the book is involved though accessible to most, and there is nothing included that is not relevant. In short, this book does a great deal to restore Scott's reputation, and for this alone is a wonderful and necessary piece of work.
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