The Last Place on Earth

Author: Roland Huntford
Rating: ★★★★½

I saw this book in the library on our cruise ship to Antarctica. I bought the book after we came back from the trip and have been reading it on and off for the next one and half years.

Although Amundsen was the first to reach the south pole, his seemingly uneventful journey was less talked about and largely forgotten by the public; instead, the one who lost the race, Scott, earned more long lasting status. On one hand, Scott was a British, England has much stronger culture influence than Norway, where Amundsen came from. On the other hand, it seems it’s a typical phenomena that the only way to beat a winner is being a tragic hero. (The author implies that this was indeed what Scott intended to do.)

Mr. Huntford is set to correct this thought in most people’s mind by telling what really happened in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and who these two persons truly are. Amundsen was an open-minded, passionate and prudent leader, his trip was well prepared in every detail; on the contrary, Scott was depicted as an insecure, inapproachable and unprepared person who ultimately unqualified to carry out the task.

I can’t say if the author’s view is too much biased, but the fact is, it’s not just one but a series of failures in Scott’s plan that not only lead to loss of the race but also costed lives of his whole team. It’s more than just weather and unluckiness should be blamed.

Amundsen’s own words best summarize his success.

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

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