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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 10 December 2012
I'm not really one for travel books but this captured my attention from the very beginning. Its a fascinating read charting Gavin's first longing to visit Antarctica, his journey there, the passing of the seasons in the year plus he spent there and then returning back to 'normal' life. Its full of remarkable insights of what life is like when 14 people are holed up in an inaccessible base in perpetual night for months at a time, and I really enjoyed learning lots about previous polar explorations, of which I was totally ignorant beforehand. It's beautifully written, informative and compelling, and I kept wanting to stop and read bits of prose out to my partner as I knew he'd love it too.

I've found myself mentioning bits and pieces of info I've picked up from the book in conversations with people for weeks now - I'm glad so much of it has stayed with me. The only bad thing about it, which isn't really the author's fault, is that I was so engrossed in the book I nearly missed getting off the train at my stop - jumped out in a rush with book and bicycle, but left my two paniers with work computer and much else besides, on the train and had to make a special trip to Inverness to pick them up from the station lost property... The first time ever I've done that, but Empire Antarctica made several 3 hour train journeys whizz by and that is praise indeed in my book!

A fantastic read I reckon, for anyone who is even remotely interested in Antarctica and adventurous explorations, or for those who doesn't even know they are yet.
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on 18 November 2012
This story of working for a year as a doctor for the British Antarctic Survey at its station at Halley, the closest BAS outpost to the South Pole, is full of terrific insights on life on the edge of the world.

Francis had already travelled to the Arctic and written about it in True North, but this was the first book of his I had tried. He sets out his mission to secure the much sought-after job, and explains his fascination both with the imagined "solidity, silence and enormity" of Antarctic (so different from his busy life in Edinburgh) and with emperor penguins, which he had learned showed no fear of humans (so you could walk up close to observe their ways). And soon he is off, departing from unglamorous Immingham on the Humber on the RSS Ernest Shackleton, an ice-breaker, heading south. References to the likes of Shackleton and Scott are woven in throughout... the book is as much a history of Antarctic adventure as a travelogue.

The freshness of the writing comes from the sense of cutting loose from the iPad world, and of going back to basics and trying to understand an alien place (rather like Thesiger in the Arabian deserts). Francis points out early on that cartographers refer to blank spaces on maps as "sleeping beauties" - which struck me as being a lovely phrase. The book is good on such details.

He describes Halley and its inhabitants (whose mental health suffers due to the isolation of the station) and is called upon to provide fillings for rotten teeth - he admits worrying what would happen if he were to fall seriously ill, as no-one else could treat him. And he is soon delighting in the "immensity of nothing" of his surroundings, seeing many a penguin and flying in a Twin Otter as far as 81 degrees south on one scientific expedition. This is as close to the South Pole as he goes.

After his year of pottering about Halley and coming to terms with the solitude and emptiness of the landscape (and observing the emperor penguins, even dissecting a dead chick), he admits to feeling "like a monk broken free of the cloister" when he returns to normal life. Empire Antarctica gives an unusual and colourful insight into a chilly existence... one of the least visited places on the planet.
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on 1 January 2013
Empire Antarctica by Gavin Francis is a beautiful book. With a canvas of the antarctic, the paint of the Emperors, and Gavin's confident brush strokes I was captivated by this book cum work of art. Gavin writes with confidence and a stunning command of English - prepare to reach for your dictionary - with which Gavin graciously and elegantly immersed me in a land of which I could only dream. Or wonder. But I began to feel I was living there with him.

I imagine Gavin must be pretty psychologically tough, but I always felt in the company of a man I woud love to sit and have a beer with. Take a journey to Antarctica, meet a bunch of extraordinary creatures - the birds, not his colleagues - and be swept away by the language. And, as I prepared to approach my first Christmas on my own, I got a deep and comforting insight in how there is a difference between being lonely and alone. Chapeaux!

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on 15 January 2013
'empire Antarctica is a fantastic read. More than just an average travel book , the writing is Detailed and very insightful Gavin Francis relates his experience working as a Doctor at the Halley research station during a Polar year. Dr Francis is able to observe at first hand the tough life of the fascinating Emperor Penguin. We the reader feel a part of his whole adventure right from the beginning including the long sea journey to reach the Antarctic continent , along the way we learn about earlier polar explorers such as Scott, Shackleton and Byrd. At first hand we experience Gavin's courage and tenacity and marvel at the strength of all those that work in such harsh, unpredictable and unforgiving conditions
The mysterious allure of Antarctica is perfectly captured and is made accessible for all. Anyone interested in all aspects of Antarctica will really enjoy this book.
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on 15 June 2015
Beautifully written and vastly knowledgeable. A wonderful book that evokes the strange Antarctic wilderness, the small community of scientists stranded on the icy base in the polar winter, previous heroic explorers, celestial observations, meteorological phenomena, the extraordinary penguins and much else.

It's the difference between junk food and real food. This is a great read!
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on 25 June 2014
Gavin skillfully weaves together 3 threads, the natural history of penguins, his own life's journey, and the experience of living on an remote Antarctic research station. A good book for anyone with an interest in Antarctica or Penguins, if you ever wondered what it would be like to live on an Antarctic Station then this is the book for you.
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on 25 May 2016
This book was drawn to my attention by an article in Herald Scotland. It was so enjoyable and gives a real insight into the experience of being there. I also loved the story of the Emporer penguins, very interesting. I've since been on Instagram looking at Antarctica photos!
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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2014
I was really looking forward to this one, and I did enjoy the first few chapters when I thought I'd finally discovered someone as obsessed with penguins as I am, but although the sections about penguins were fascinating, I just couldn't get past the other sections. I found Francis' writing style strange, and a lot of the time he didn't write about Antarctica or penguins, but about how he didn't know what to do with his life, which was okay the first ten times, but after that wore pretty thin. When I fell asleep in the middle of a chapter, I knew it was the end of my relationship with this book. A great shame, as I was so looking forward to it and had such high hopes
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on 15 April 2014
This book stunningly describes the Antarctic the only problem is it can be a bit repetitive, I lost interest half way through, there's only times you can read about how cold/ windy/ icy/ isolated a place can be. The picture with the bagpiper and the penguin is haliarous and worth the price alone. Also, I know the author is a doctor and obviously clever but I could done without having to reach for the dictionary every 5 mins.
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on 12 January 2014
Well written, vivid descriptions and lots of interesting stories on the history of Antarctica. As most of us will never visit Antarctica then reading this book is the next best thing.
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