Oct 04, Donna rated it really liked it Shelves: ships-and-explorers , book-club , nonfiction. This was a fascinating look at the culture surrounding English polar exploration. I thought it was written well, but it's also dense, which may not suit readers who like their nonfiction on the breezier side. My favorite chapter was on the concept of the sublime and how gothic novelists used that aesthetic in ways that didn't quite line up with expected gender roles. Among the ideas that affected the English imagination are the power and sublimity of nature, heroism and disaster, the reputations of lost explorers, and the characteristics of native peoples.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of ideas, and one need not be a fan of polar exploration to enjoy it. Dec 02, Erica rated it liked it Shelves: wilderness. Feb 10, Chris Stanley rated it liked it Shelves: aw80d , library. Interesting topic, but felt like it was written by a less than enthusiastic writer. I guess I skim-read it! Another reader has suggested that it may be too academic, and I'd go along with that, in my case anyway. Some interesting points along the way but too little on Scott.
Jun 19, Jay Warner rated it really liked it Shelves: canada. There is a lot of information packed into this book about the human obsession with polar exploration. I was completely immersed in the poetic language Spufford uses to describe the landscape of the Arctic and Antarctic and it was interesting to read about how the English, in Victorian times, became enthralled with the idea of conquering the frozen land.
Midway through the book I had to put it aside for a little over a year, but when I returned, it was as fascinating as I remembered it There is a lot of information packed into this book about the human obsession with polar exploration. Midway through the book I had to put it aside for a little over a year, but when I returned, it was as fascinating as I remembered it.
My favorite parts were the description of Sir John Franklin's expedition to find the Northwest Passage and the ordeal of Robert Falcon Scott in his quest to be the first to travel to the South Pole.
I did not know that Franklin's wife played such a large role in his expedition, although I was aware of her efforts to find him when he disappeared. The one criticism I have of the book is that the author wanders off into everyday life in England, the roles of servants and women, and sociological commentary, which do not have much to do with polar exploration or explorers. I found it an irritating and very lengthy section which I was eager to get through so I could once again find the subject matter promised by the author.
But as I read quickly through those parts there were some portions I had to stop and read more closely because they piqued my interest. The last part of the book brought back all the colorful and literary language, the trials and heartache of Scott's journey, and the final moments eight months after the death of Scott and his companions, when the search party from Cape Evans uncovers the tent and discovers the bodies.
I can't really consider this a spoiler as the results of the Scott expedition are well known. Having just finished another book about an expedition near Baffin Island in the late 's where the men were immersed in the Inuit way of living and travelling, I was struck by the contrast of how little the Scott party learned from the natives probably because they regarded the Inuit as inferior to the English , and how they persisted in using clothing, food, and animals not suited for the conditions.
I can't imagine what he was thinking. The various references to poets and novelists of the era opened up another dimension of thought on polar exploration. Tying together the thoughts of popular books, poetry, and the collecting of souvenirs gave the concept of English fascination with the subject a well-rounded and multi-faceted view that I found particularly enjoyable.
There is a select bibliography and index which also helps reference back to various points in the book. Part non-fiction and part embellished romanticism, I could easily see going back to this book time and again. May 15, Fraser Sherman rated it really liked it Shelves: history. Spufford is less interested in the history of polar explanation than the why of it: what drove so many Englishmen and yes, in this era they were all men to explore an inhospitable region where nothing apparently could be gained?
Why did Robert Scott's failed quest to the South Pole become a hit movie, a children's book, and a moral lesson for both left he failed from classism! Part of the drive to explore was that old standby, "because it's there! As others have said, Spufford's style doesn't really grab readers, but it's worth the effort. Feb 05, Joe Tristram rated it it was amazing. If you are haunted by the Scott polar expedition, this is the book for you. I now feel that I know, in some detail, the psychological background to those doomed men. Most of Francis Spufford's is a trawl through the literature of the nineteenth century where it references polar exploration.
There's a lot!
I had no idea is was such an obsession. Even Jane Eyre was influenced by its gloom. And in the last two chapters we relive that terrible journey, and further.
Amundsen, on the other hand, did not share these assumptions; trained by Eskimos and equipped with their dog teams, he glided smoothly to the South Pole, leaving there a Norwegian flag to greet the struggling British party, hauling their own sledges, when they finally arrived. Spufford supplies a gruesome detail to illustrate the cultural gulf that isolated the explorers from more knowledgeable peoples. In Peary took a party of Eskimos back to the United States, where they soon sickened and died, victims of bacteria which did not exist in their antiseptic homeland.
Altogether this is a fine book. Spufford writes very well indeed, and shows himself to be as much at home in dealing with complex ideas as in deploying historical evidence or producing imaginative reconstructions of past events.
His closing section, in which he imagines the last harrowing days of the Scott expedition, is brilliantly carried off. And since he is not labouring any political theories or pushing his own prejudices, his book represents a satisfying and original account of a large slice of our national past. Jun Categories more 19th Century , Exploration , History. Francis Spufford.
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