Book Review: Terra Incognita: Travels In Antarctica

Representing Cold for the Book-a-month Challenge is Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita: Travels In Antarctica (1996). Just for kicks I’m going to make it the Around the World for a Good Book selection for Antarctica as well.  As the subtitle states, this is a travel book to the forbidding, ownerless continent at the southernmost part of the planet.  For the most part that means visiting scientific research station.  I’m surprised how many research stations exist and how many people live and work there.  The stations seem well out-fitted (all of them have a bar) and served by frequent flights.  Wheeler even flies to the South Pole which feels a bit anticlimactic.

Among the vast deserts of ice are the well-preserved huts of the early explorers of Antarctica’s heroic age.  It’s hard to believe that they still stand with the explorers’ provisions still on the shelves.  Wheeler visits these historic relics and weaves the stories of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Mawson, Cherry-Garrard and Byrd with her own.

The last portion of the book where Wheeler spends a season on the ice with an artist at their own camp is particularly impressive.  I give this book high marks for insight and originality.

Terra incognita : travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler.
New York : Random House, 1996.