A Pulitzer Prize–winning author examines South Pole expeditions, “wrapping the science in plenty of dangerous drama to keep readers engaged” (Booklist).
An Empire of Ice presents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration—placing the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and others in a larger scientific, social, and geopolitical context.
Recounting the Antarctic expeditions of the early twentieth century, the author reveals the British efforts for what they actually were: massive scientific enterprises in which reaching the South Pole was but a spectacular sideshow. By focusing on the larger purpose of these legendary adventures, Edward J. Larson deepens our appreciation of the explorers’ achievements, shares little-known stories, and shows what the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery was really about.
“Rather than recounting the story of the race to the pole chronologically, Larson concentrates on various scientific disciplines (like meteorology, glaciology and paleontology) and elucidates the advances made by the polar explorers . . . Covers a lot of ground—science, politics, history, adventure.” —The New York Times Book Review
While the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration lasted from 1897-1922, Pulitzer-winner Larson (A Magnificent Catastrophe) focuses on the British Antarctic expeditions prior to World War I in his study of the era and its accomplishments. British explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton take center stage, joined by Norwegian Roald Amundsen, as Larson examines the numerous attempts to reach the South Pole, including Scott s tragic last journey and Amundsen s victory. Transcending those tales, he analyzes how these missions furthered science, dividing his narrative into various disciplines: from oceanography to geology, biology to magnetism, we see how these missions were as much about "how science gave meaning to adventure" as they were a "dash to the South Pole." While Scott s last expedition "came to stand for little more than relentless perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat," Larson skillfully details how these missions expanded knowledge of Antarctica across an array of fields, and how Scott sacrificed everything to bring home a few more specimens. The result is an insightful, accessible, enlightening account of an age when exploration "reflected the values of the Edwardian age: fitness and science mattered." b&w photos.