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The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian…
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The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the… (1912)

by Roald Amundsen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Roald Amundsen explorations (2)

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Without a doubt, Amundsen is a giant among polar explorers, having lead the first open-sea voyage of the Northwest Passage and, several years later, the first successful expedition to the South Pole. But there have always been questions about his tactics while racing to be the first at the Pole, and they do dim the glory of his achievement. This book is Amundsen's account of the endeavor, and it leaves some gaping holes; it's also not nearly as enthralling as some other accounts of polar explorers, such as those by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Douglas Mawson. This is only partly due to the relative ease of his Antarctic adventures compared with theirs.

Amundsen was an extraordinarily prepared explorer. He and his crew, a total of 19, grew up in Norway and skied from a young age. Amundsen felt strongly that the best way to travel over polar terrain was by ski, with Eskimo-dog-drawn sledges carrying supplies. Although he was fund-raising to try for the North Pole, Peary and Cook both made claims before he was ready, so without telling his financial backers or crew, he secretly planned to try for the South Pole instead, knowing that Robert Scott was already planning such an expedition. Only after they were on their way did he let the crew in on his plans and telegraph Scott with the news. Scott was already southward-bound at the time, and Amundsen would have known it would be months before Scott received the telegram, long after he could alter his own plans. This sneakiness, in a world typically governed by gentlemanly behavior, has tarnished his superb accomplishment.

The account is interesting but not particularly gripping. Amundsen left out most problems that arose, especially his falling out with a young expedition member who had been foisted on him by a financial backer; he describes in glowing terms most aspects of their preparations, interpersonal relations, and run for the Pole. The trip was indeed a complete success: Pole realized, crew in good shape, and back early. The dispassionate descriptions of dogs and seals being slaughtered and used for food were pretty disagreeable - especially the crew's enjoyment of dog steaks. But it was a different time, of course.

An essential read for the Antarctic enthusiast, but I wouldn't read this one first. Better to start with some of the more emotionally involving accounts about Scott, Mawson, and Shackleton. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Mar 17, 2017 |
The South Pole (1912) is Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's account of the first expedition to reach the South Pole and plant the "giant nail". He is most famous today as the foil or contrast to British explorer Robert F. Scott who died attempting the same journey at about the same time in a sort of "race for the pole". Much more has been written and sung about Scott whose story is very dramatic, while Amundsen's comparatively uneventful trip has mostly been forgotten. This is a shame because Amundsen is a model of preparedness, on how to do things correctly. It lacks the tragic aspect of Scott, but it has a secure feeling of confidence in the face of adversity, of a well made plan executed perfectly. After reading so many tragic Arctic and Antarctic explorer stories - Scott and Shackleton and Franklin etc. - what a delight to read about one that went well, no one died (or came close to dieing), and the goal was achieved.

As a literary work Amundsen's account is pretty good, it is vivid and never really bogs down in repetitive detail. Chapter 8, "A Day At Framheim" is particularly good. The snow-tunnel fortress will forever live in my memory. The sauna, the "crystal palace", the smell of American pancakes. The descriptions of the dogs are excellent.

If there is criticism, it is that Amundsen is somewhat aniseptic in washing out anything that would make him or the expedition look bad. As we learn in The Last Place on Earth, there was a serious problem between Amundsen and Johanseen (which eventually led to Johanseen's suicide in 1913), but it is completely excised from the book. One wonders what else was left out.

I read the book using two excellent sources. The original edition is available as a scanned PDF, which includes numerous maps and photographs that are indispensable. There is also a LibriVox audio-book version, from which I found certain chapters to be enjoyable read aloud.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2010 cc-by-nd ( )
2 vote Stbalbach | Jan 12, 2010 |
no one dies on his watch, and yet Scott is the hero?? quoi?!
  pouleroulante | Dec 31, 2005 |
It's interesting to compare this account with Apsley Cherry-Garrard's story of the Scott expedition. They were both racing for the south pole but Amundsen relied on very careful preparation and an experienced team + a great respect for the conditions whereas Scott was poorly prepared, trusting more in late victorian macho imperialism famously represented by his man pulled sledges. Everything works right for Amundsen in this excellent account of turn of the century polar exploration. ( )
2 vote Miro | Sep 26, 2005 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roald Amundsenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chater, A.G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindberg, AnnicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindberg, Odd F.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On February 10, 1911, we started for the South to establish depots, and continued our journey until April 11.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0815411278, Paperback)

Roald Amundsen records his race to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Amundsen's expertise enabled him to succeed where his predecessors, and competitors, did not. His rival Captain Robert F. Scott not only failed to reach the Pole first, but—due to poor preparation and miscalculation—died with the rest of his party on their return trip. The South Pole remains one of the greatest and most important books on polar exploration.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:01 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Roald Amundsen records his race to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Amundsen's expertise enabled him to succeed where his predecessors, and competitors, did not. His rival Captain Robert F. Scott not only failed to reach the Pole first, but?due to poor preparation and miscalculation?died with the rest of his party on their return trip. The South Pole remains one of the greatest and most important books on polar exploration.… (more)

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