Chris Turney - 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica (3 stars)

An ambitious history of polar exploration that falls short on presentation of maps and new evidence

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Chris Turney - 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica

(Pimlico)

This ambitious book summarises all five expeditions to the Antarctic around 1912, the year that Scott and his men died, having been beaten to the Pole by Amundsen. What is much less well known are the contexts for these expeditions and Turney argues persuasively that they were driven by a scientific curiosity to understand this unknown continent, rather than by any colonial imperative to claim new territory. But it’s hard to keep track of who is where and when because there are no decent maps, a major failing in a book that aims to put the science first.

It’s worth reading to the end for the bombshell – the reasons for Scott’s death have been extensively discussed but Turney claims to have found new evidence. If true, then this is worth a book in its own right, and yet it’s not even mentioned on the cover. This is symptomatic of the whole book, which struggles under all the information it’s trying to convey and should be best seen as an introduction to the more detailed accounts written by the explorers themselves.

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