Englishman Ernest Shackleton, described by Larson as equal parts adventurer and publicity hound, won the support of the king of Great Britain and generous Australians to mount a drive to reach the South Pole. Hardy, but not foolhardy, Shackleton led his men to the farthest point south at 88 degrees, 23 minutes before turning back due to bad weather ... Larson writes in an engaging and fast-moving manner in reacquainting us with those heroes of yesterday who’ve slipped into the historical shadows.
Mr. Larson, an academic and author of many other books (including a previous work on exploring Antarctica), is a talented storyteller with a dry sense of humor, and the nicest compliment that I can pay him is that he does full justice to his three protagonists’ remarkable bravery, resourcefulness, accomplishments—and flaws ... Mr. Larson’s scholarship indicates that both men also lusted after fame and fortune. Cynics could conclude that Peary and Shackleton were hypocrites. And yet, my own cynicism notwithstanding, I can’t help thinking that these two adventurers (even mendacious Peary) wouldn’t, couldn’t, have endured the hellish ordeals they did if they hadn’t possessed a modicum of idealistic patriotism.
Larson captures the excitement and danger that were the defining characteristics of this age of exploration ... Larson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in history for his book about the Scopes Trial (Summer for the Gods, 1997), is a meticulous writer, telling us not just what happened on the three expeditions but—whenever possible—why and how the success or failure of these voyages of discovery would impact the very future of exploration itself.