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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 18 August 2007
Apsley Cherry Garrard wrote the finest book ["The Worst Journey In The World"] ever to have come out of polar exploration. As a member of Scott's party on the 1911-12 expedition, Cherry Garrard was a witness and participant in the creation of a myth. He lived through events that have become lodged for all time in the consciousness of our country and our culture. His book is so important that, in turn, an account of his life is essential. Sara Wheeler's biography of Apsley Cherry Garrard is, I think, definitive.

Her grasp of polar exploration, past and present, is comprehensive. Her research began as preparation for her own time in Antarctica. She spent months traveling between the camps and research sites dotted about the continent, including a spell at the camp at the Pole. She returned to Antarctica the following year to spend weeks in a camp of her own [with another woman, a painter] as the Antarctic winter ended and the sun reappeared for another season.

Her first-hand appreciation of the conditions, the mentality, the motivations, the relationships, of Antarctic life lend an essential authenticity to her treatment of Cherry Garrard's account of his time with the 1911 expedition. It is clear that she has enormous affection for A. C.G. but this feeling for her subject does not in any way detract from the way she has presented this man's life. Her account of his life before and after the polar expedition is equally detailed and insightful.

The 1911 expedition and its outcome created a debate which continues to this day, including the nature of exploration, Scott as a man and as a leader, social and class issues then and now, colonialism, national consciousness, personal psychology under extreme conditions and much else. Sara Wheeler deals with all these issues lucidly and, I believe, in a most even-handed way. She has not shied away from the issues raised by the fierce revisionism of Roland Huntford, Ranulph Fiennes's specific repost to Huntford and others who have deconstruced the Scott-as-hero myth. She has dealt with these conflicting positions in a thoughtful and measured way.

Sara Wheeler's writing is a real pleasure to read. This account of a man's life is humorous without being flippant, detailed without being tedious and perceptive but without psychobabble. I believe this book is a credit to Sara Wheeler and a fitting tribute to Apsley Cherry Garrard. It deserves a place on anyone's shelf, right next to Cherry's own luminous book.
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on 27 December 2001
Some time ago I readApsley Cherry-Garrard's 'The Worst Journey in the World'. It became one of my favourite travel books, but left me wanting to know more about the man who wrote it. The book's forward, written by Paul Theroux, mentioned that Cherry-Garrard never had a biography written about him. This was my call to action, that I, who had not written anything more demanding than a shopping list for years, would write that biography. Sadly for me but thankfully for the literary world, Sara Wheeler beat me to it. In 'Cherry', her first biography, she uncovers the life of a man who never quite fitted in, who was more of a mass of contradictions than than most people. He was landed gentry at a time when their power was waning, a Victorian in outlook whilst living in the 20th century, a shy,anxious man who bought his way into an Antarctic expedition where anxiety-provoking situations were presumably relatively common. Sara Wheeler has dug deep to get under the skin of Cherry-Garrard and it is obvious that despite his indifference and/or hatred of children, socialists and vicars, there are parts of his personality that are likeable, and that the author likes him and communicates that warmth to us. It is also plain to see her warm (?) feelings towards the Antarctic and her empathy with the conditions that Cherry and his comrades had to endure. It ws no surprise to learn that she had spent 7 months there herself. As well as laying bare the internal tensions within Cherry-Garrard, Wheeler also explores and exposes the tensions within Scott's last expedition itself, and the various alliancies and difficulties between it's members, both during the expedition and even for years afterwards, difficulties that were heavily suppressed by an establishment that needed heroes, not human beings. To summarise, this is a well researched, very readable book about a kind, dreadfully anxious but brave and fascinating man.
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on 6 February 2003
A gripping story of a very interesting life. Because of her own knowledge of the Antarctis, the author has managed to combine biography with adventure story. Through the gripping narrative, Apsley becomes a real person and his plight comes to life on every page. A book I read in small installments to be able to enjoy it for a long time.
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on 22 September 2008
This is a wonderful book providing a much more reflective view on the 1911 Antarctic expedition of Scott than many others. It does this through tracing the life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard who, in his early twenties, was one of the youngest members of the team. I was somewhat sceptical that a book this length about one person could hold my attention, however it exceeded all expectation.

From a wealthy and privileged background, Cherry-Garrard found his adventure and purpose in the Antarctic, but in many ways never seemed throughout the rest of his life to have been able to find anything to match that early intensity of purpose and friendship. Not only that but it was his tragedy to be closest to rescuing Scott and his own two best friends (Bill Wilson and Birdie Bowers), and to be part of the group that eventually discovered their frozen corpses, having had to wait a whole winter to do so knowing that they had perished. Not surprisingly this loss marked the rest of his life. Wheeler writes that: "Through his story Cherry reached out to something universal: the eclipse of youth and the realm of abandoned dreams and narrowing choices that is the future."

However, the author does more than just bring the character of Cherry-Garrard so successfully alive, she also chronicles through that life an era long gone and challenges the reader how to find fulfilment when the intensity dies. As the subject himself wrote in his own best-selling account of the expedition, The Worst Journey in the World: "To me, and perhaps to you, the interest in this story is the men, and it is the spirit of the men, "the response of the spirit", which is interesting rather than what they did or failed to do: except in a superficial sense they never failed. That is how I see it and I knew them pretty well."
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on 19 April 2006
I came across this book in a local secondhand bookshop just recently and had bought it on spec, I was not even familiar with the characters involved just looking for something different.

The detail which Sara Wheeler prescribes is quite frightening, the hardship of the sleding journeys (manhauling) let alone extreme cold is almost beyond belief. This truely must be an insight into what the lure and appeal of what early exploration must have been like and why people were driven to push themselves to such breathtaking boundaries. I did not find the book an easy or engulfing read, (excluding the early antarctic section) but the overwhleming desire to see it through to it's final resolutions make it a worthwhile if not thought provoking read.
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on 11 February 2003
Sara Wheeler's book is an exceptional biography of an exceptional human being, and quite the best piece of serious writing I've come across in years. Cherry's epitaph for Oates as "a very gallant gentleman" could well have been his own.
Far from uncritical of her man, Wheeler balances a deep understanding of what led him to Antarctica, with a sympathetic and thoughtful analysis of his desperately self-destructive later years. Although much of the story springs from Cherry's remarkable relationships with his sledging partners, particularly Bowers and Wilson, I was glad that Wheeler did not fall into the trap of quoting wholesale from "The Worst Journey" (itself surely among the finest travel books ever written, though it was only through Wheeler that I learned of the contribution made by GBS). Sections of the biography are inevitably moving : the loss of the tent at Crozier, the discovery of Scott's party, Cherry's incomplete relationship with his young wife. His clinical depression seems well-handled, and it is impossible not to sympathise with his plight, even if, or perhaps because, it was to such a large extent self-inflicted.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard failed no-one but himself. Sara Wheeler has not let him down.
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on 5 February 2002
Before you read Sara Wheeler's gripping biography, I recommend you read "The Worst Journey in the World" written by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Only then will you be totally prepared for Wheeler's deep and moving account. Her final page indeed sums up the whole feeling of the book, where she summarises how the world moved on after the war and space age came but Cherry was "...out of step with the times." As statements go this is no ordinary throw away final line, it captures the intense feelings and mis-understanding of a world that had gone completely wrecked in the eyes of this great polar and charming man. The effects of two world events in the early 20th century, "Titanic" and "Polar Exploration," of which Cherry-Garrard was party to the latter, has seemed to haunt a closed Victorian/Edwardian era and never really to be awaken again. But this biography unlocks a special but tragic time and the emmense aftermath of those that were left behind at its curtain call. In a sense, this portrait shoulders Cherry-Garrard as hero which indeed he was. His authoritive outpouring resulting in "The Worst Journey" could never be written again in either style or comment. The sadness is that both his beautiful spirit and redeeming soul always seemed lost forever after the fatal last Polar Expedition by Scott and his fellows. What is clear is Cherry-Garrard's whole respect for his commrades, which is a quality seriously rare and lacking in today's world. Again, the biography confirms that characteristics such as gracious conduct, position, and stature in people of his time also drew to a close after the Wars and only remains in Cherry-Garrard's world. Taking the words of a reviewer of Cherry-Garrard's book, may I recommend also that you sit in the same chair and in the same position, head back and be at peace with the world by ignoring it. This biography is not only moving, it is respectful, rightly mournful, sympathetic, and more important - the last word.
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on 2 July 2003
Sara Wheeler's biography of Cherry-Garrard is a wonderfully written account of a man who epitomises a lost era of British exploration. His own account of his journey south on Scott's ultimately doomed polar expoedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is one of the greatest non-fiction books I have ever read. Anyone who has read and enjoyed his book cannot fail to be moved by the man himself and wonder at how the author of such a masterpiece could only have written a single book. Wheeler explores this paradox and in so doing uncovers the story of a remarkable man. Cherry-Garrard was clearly a strange mixture of the true blue and the curmudgeon: the strength, courage, passion and friendship he showed in the South counterpointed by his slow descent into depression and isolation in later life. Perhaps not surprisingly, the remainder of Cherry's life could never quite live up to the idealism and heroism of his adventures in the South. Wheeler's prose is breathtaking in places, losing nothing in comparison with many of the great writers she quotes and she does a beautiful job of bringing Cherry-Garrard to life. A fascinating read regardless of your level of interest in polar exploration.
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on 27 May 2012
This is a multi-faceted book. It is not just a biography of Cherry, it gives an excellent account of the late Victorian character-building ethic and in addition, a perfect description of Scott's last expedition to the Antarctic, complete with the exact part that Cherry played in it. By her own admission, Sara Wheeler says that Cherry was a difficult subject for a biography. He was reserved and did not leave much in the way of information about his life - but Sara has winkled it out, and constructed a most lively and impressionable account of a man who was ill-fitted, psychologically, for his part in the expedition and who struggled ever after with the legacy of his actions. I found this account to be a real page-turner, in fact I could not put it down. It is, I believe, the only biography ever written of Cherry, and it does the man justice one hundred per cent. In answer to that question "Who from history would you most like to have lunch with?" I'd always have answered, "Dr. Samuel Johnson". But now it would be Cherry as well. And I think we'd all have got on OK!
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on 13 June 2012
What a cracking biography.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was a product of the Edwardian era - born into privilege in 1886 - but who craved adventure. His chance came when he managed to persuade Robert Falcon Scott to include him in the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. His 3 years in Antarctica were the zenith of his life - and his only book - the story and much more, of his exploits (The Worst Journey in the World - separately reviewed)- was a crowning literary glory to those 3 years. But Cherry was quite unlike the other survivors of the Terra Nova expedition, for it was not for him to achieve even greater things (as did Teddy Evans, Debenham, Wright, Priestley and Simpson, amongst others). From his early 40s till his death at 73, he suffered from illness and decline, only to be partially rescued by a late marriage to his dedicated wife Angela, at the age of 53.

Sarah Wheeler has done a brilliant job in researching Cherry's family background and upbringing. With consumate ease she captures the spirit of the man, transporting the reader into the era of the Edwardians, describing beautifully the thrill and the pain of pioneering adventure in Antarctica, and poignantly relating the enigma of a man in decline who missed his dead friends and companions terribly, who could not come to terms with the changing order of the mid 20th century and was never again able to re-live the cherished memories of his former days of glory.

I read the book from cover to cover, without putting it down, and was sorry when it came to an end. Sarah Wheeler is a woman of tremendous personal achievement and like Scott and Cherry himself, a most talented writer.
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