Sunday, September 10, 2006


I'm on a bit of an Antartic kick at the moment. So I am currently reading Huntford's Shackleton biography. Also got Nimrod by Riffenburgh (2004) which I picked up cheap at Spelman's. I shall be interested to read the latter, as Huntford is proving to be a frustrating biographer. Shackleton was published in 1985, and perhaps they did things differently then. I shall have to find other biographies from that time to see if they are similarly judgemental. Huntford has no time for Scott at all, and other figures come in for a beating too. Huntford always finds some sort of negative comment to make, to the point that I wince on average about once a page. He also occasionally uses a foreign phrase, expecting the reader to understand what he means.

I think that his comments regarding the barking mad British idea of man-hauling around the Ice are reasonable. If everyone else was man-hauling, there would be some sort of excuse. However since Nansen and Amundsen used dogs without any problem, why didn't the Brits? They were also not keen on skis (or plain ski as Huntford has it), but it's mostly to do with not being taught properly how to use them (same possibly goes for the dogs). I note that Scott was using skis for his last journey though. But Shackleton doesn't use them for the Nimrod expedition, even though on the Discovery expedition with Scott, he used them when he was sick and they eased his trip a little.

On DVD, out of the Library, I also got the recent Shackleton series, shown on Channel 4 in 2003, starring Kenneth Branagh. In addition, there is a video version of the film shot on the Endurance expedition itself, called South so I shall watch that too soon, though I've seen a version of it in the cinema. And btw Shackleton's written account can be read as an e-book.

I shouldn't be doing this, as I've got a review book to read, and, er, review by the end of September ... However, it's taking my mind off job prospects admirably :-)


At 8:02 pm BST, Blogger Sarah Cuthbertson said...

I haven't read any Shackleton biography yet (though I enjoyed the TV drama you mention). I've read two biographies of Captain Scott (by Ranulph Fiennes and by David Crane, the latter just out in PB) and also The Coldest March by scientist Susan Solomon, which confirms Crane's view that Scott made serious mistakes which wouldn't individually or collectively have resulted in the deaths of the polar party had it not been for freak weather conditions on the return trek that nobody could have foreseen, not even the expedition's highly-experienced meteorologist.

I suppose Scott's fondness for manhauling was partly romantic - he wrote that he thought it nobler to face hardships and dangers with one's own unaided efforts, which meant something in those days, but seems quaint and foolhardy now. Also he was averse to the necessary killing of animals en route (Amundsen lacked that sentimentality). Scott used dogs and ponies for the heavier haulage of the outward journey, relying on manhauling for the final stretch and the return journey.

I probably should read Huntford's Scott/Amundsen biography next in the interests of thoroughness, so I'm interested in your comments about him as a biographer, which I shall be mindful of. Solomon doesn't think much of him either, in part because some of his criticisms of Scott stem from ignorance of Antarctic conditions. When he was asked (on the recent TV re-enactment of Scott's Last Expedition?) if he'd ever visited Antarctica, he said he hadn't because "it's a landscape of the mind." Humbug.

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