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.
The saga of Robert Peary, the U.S. explorer, and his attempts on the North Pole provide the clearest picture of how obsession and fame can drive a person. His claim to have succeeded remains contested, but who knows? These territories are beyond forbidding and Larson’s deep research hums along in compelling writing. To strive and to fail, then to see others ultimately succeed is a sorrow of ordinary life. Add in starvation, windchills and icy crevasses, and the burning quest to go where no one has gone before boggles the mind.