It is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, an icy desert of unearthly beauty and stubborn impenetrability. For centuries, Antarctica has captured the imagination of our greatest scientists and explorers, lingering in the spirit long after their return. Shackleton called it "the last great journey"; for Apsley Cherry-Garrard it was the worst journey in the world.
This is a book about the call of the wild and the response of the spirit to a country that exists perhaps most vividly in the mind. Sara Wheeler spent seven months in Antarctica, living with its scientists and dreamers. No book is more true to the spirit of that continent--beguiling, enchanted and vast beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination. Chosen by Beryl Bainbridge and John Major as one of the best books of the year, recommended by the editors of Entertainment Weekly and the Chicago Tribune, one of the Seattle Times's top ten travel books of the year, Terra Incognita is a classic of polar literature.
Journalist Wheeler (Travels in a Thin Country, on Chile) spent more than two years researching and organizing a seven-month journey to Antarctica, becoming the first foreigner to join the American National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists' and Writers' Program. Her wry, lucid account of that journey juxtaposes the epic exploits of heroic early Antarctic explorers (Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amunden, Douglas Mawson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, et al.) with her own adventures. She offers a critical survey of the literature of Antarctic exploration and provides as well insights into the historical and cultural impact of Antarctic exploration on the British and Norwegian national consciousnesses. While the hardships the intrepid Wheeler suffered are a faint echo of those endured by polar pioneers, there's still a wealth of absorbing detail to make the point: use and operation of toilets in subzero; foodstuffs and their creative preparation; transportation, be it dogsled, skis or snowmobile; proper layering of protective clothing; the leisure activities and quirks of the varied scientists and support crews ("Frozen Beards") she encountered. Along the way, she offers a rare woman's view of a thoroughly male place, tolerant of women in most cases but downright hostile in some (as in the U.K. zone). Wheeler writes elegantly and movingly about the unearthly landscape and its effects: "The twin peaks... were backlit against a pearly blue sky.... Ribboned crystals imprisoned in the ice glimmered like glowworms. It was swathed in light, pale as an unripe lemon. The scene said to me, `Do not be afraid.' It was like the moment when I pass back the chalice after holy communion." Her book, fascinating reading for any explorer, armchair or otherwise, concludes with the recipe for her renowned "Bread-and-Butter Pudding (Antarctic Version)."