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Customer Review

on 30 January 2012
In 1934 Admiral Byrd led his second expedition to Antarctica, but this, his account of it, isn't really a chronicle of action and derring-do on the ice. Rather, it's an intense, psychological memoir of human solitude. Byrd chose to spend the perpetual darkness of an Antarctic winter staffing a small hut on the barrier taking meteorological readings. During this time he was completely isolated except for unreliable radio contact with the main base. It's a fascinating account of how the human mind copes (or fails to) in complete isolation. Byrd's inevitable descent into depression is eloquently expressed and will, I'm sure, strike a chord with anyone who has struggled with mental health issues: "the dark side of a man's mind seems to be a sort of antenna tuned to catch gloomy thoughts from all directions. I found it so with mine." I don't think you'd need to be a polar fanatic (although I am one) to find meaning and interest in this fascinating account.

Of course, as with all autobiographical memoirs, you have to take the story presented with a degree of scepticism. Byrd is an attention-seeker and clearly dresses up his narrative in parts, underplaying his own failings. But reading the text against itself and revealing the chinks in the public face that Byrd presents is part of the pleasure and interest in a book like this. "Alone" also offers a fascinating study in the dynamics of leadership and unspoken exchange which still feels highly relevant today. We humans are complex creatures and Antarctica is the perfect blank but deadly canvas on which to paint large the workings of the mind, both socially and individually.
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