Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wintry Read - Exploring the Polar Regions

The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and the Antarctic]

Edited by Elizabeth Kolbert (the Arctic) and Francis Spufford (the Antarctic), this collection of fiction and nonfiction selections was published in 2007 to commemorate the fourth International Polar Year, which occurred from 2007 to March 2009. Knowing very little about Polar exploration myself, I found this a wonderful introduction to some well-known explorers as well as some perhaps less familiar scientists, writers, and explorers. Each half of the book was approximately 200 pages long, containing twenty selections on the Arctic and nineteen on the Antarctic, each including one selection by the editors themselves.

The selections covered a variety of subject matter, from wife-swapping to scientific exploration to reaching the Poles for the first time. The writings of the explorers interested me most, from Peary's description of his expedition to the North Pole to Scott's diary on his doomed return trip from the South Pole. As with any collection, the selections were a mixed bag with some that appealed to me more than others. My favorite Arctic selection was from Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian who tried to get to the North Pole by drifting in his ship - his descriptions were lovely and evocative, almost making me want to travel to the Arctic myself, especially to see the Northern Lights. In the Antarctic, I loved the selection about penguins, taken from The Moon by Whale Light written by Diane Ackerman. While I read the selections, I took note of those books I wanted to seek out in full, as well as keeping my computer nearby to look up what crampons and sastrugi look like. The infrequent typo distracted me from time to time, but overall this is a fascinating glimpse into the Polar regions that whet my appetite for more.

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