For those who have an interest in the Heroic age of polar exploration, or for those who just like pure adventure, this biography is a must. Douglas Mawson's first encounter with the south polar ice was with Shackleton's Nimrod expedition in 1907-09, when with Edgeworth David and Mackay, he trekked to the south magnetic pole. Born in Douglas on the Isle of Man, but spending the greater part of his life in Australia, Mawson went on to lead a series of expeditions in Antarctica, discovering and exploring new ground and adding considerably to the scientific understanding of the region.
Arguably, his contribution to the exploration of Antarctica, was equal to that of Scott or Shackleton or Amundsen, but for whatever reason, his name has not been immortalised, as has theirs. And yet, in 1914, he was deservedly knighted by George V.
In this biography, Beau Riffenburgh seeks to redress the balance by highlighting Mawson's remarkable achievements, and especially his first most spectacular trek with 2 companions, Innis and Mertz, which he finished alone, Innis having died in a crevasse and Mertz from apparent toxic poisoning. Mawson's story of survival was truly incredible. Yet set against his achievements, Riffenburgh describes a man who did not appear to have the leadership qualities of Scott or Shackleton (albeit that those 2 men's leadership styles were quite different). Piecing together, primary sources, a story is told of rifts and dissent within Mawson's polar teams and dramatic and potentially life-threatening differences between Mawson and Davis, the captain of the expedition ship 'Aurora'. It would appear that Mawson could be stubborn to the point of recklessness, and was not always good to know.
Two points of criticism of the book. Riffenbergh makes little attempt to delve deeper into Mawson's early life. By contrast, in his excellent biography of Scott, David Crane goes to great lengths to analyse what makes the man - to very great effect. I would like to have seen Riffenbergh make a greater effort to help the reader work out what it was that really made Mawson the man he was. And secondly, though the book contains 3 maps. it would have benefitted me to have had several more. I found it rather difficult to fully appreciate those sledging journeys which were amply described, but which lacked a map.
However these criticisms are minor. Riffenbergh has done a very good job.
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