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Icy Graves

Icy Graves

Stephen Haddelsey
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
In childhood I was introduced to Antarctica via 'South with Scott' by Edward Evans and later, at school, found the Penguin of Apsley Cherry-Garrard 's 'The Worst Journey in the World' . My mind never went that far South again except for following our adventures in South Georgia in 1982. I never personally got further than the Magellan Straits although there I could see the icy peaks far away to the South. Basically I am not a roughy-toughy outdoors person anyway. So when 'Icy Graves' arrived for review I was diffident - I was quite wrong about that. I found this book most interesting. Although presented as relating to deaths in Antarctica it is far more than that.

In narrating this sad litany the author includes an enormous amount of detail about Antarctic exploration, including the political and strategic background with their sovereignty and Cold War drivers, and the appalling environmental and meteorological conditions the men faced. In covering the causes of their misadventures he gives us the history of bringing first motors and then aircraft to assist the expeditions and we end up with a fascinating overview of what has been done, and still continues. The medical and psychological effects of isolation, want of sunlight, arduous duties and the three sorts of hypothermia are all excellently explained and related to examples - I am certainly here better informed. It was good to learn how better selection, training, discipline and policy have brought modern expeditions a greater degree of personal safety.

The author has already written on related subjects. He is not a practising Antarcticist but his sources and bibliography show that his research has been very detailed, as is the resulting narrative. Sometimes this really begins to hum, for instance when narrating the ghastly tribulations of the downed crew of an American flying boat.

I also learned new (but unexplained) words like sastrugi and nunatak.

41 black and white photographs are included. Some of the notes might have been better placed either as direct footnotes or even within the main flow of the text but most are source citations justifiably remitted to the end. Personally I would, as a 'general' reader, have appreciated more and better maps. On balance though, this is a very good book and I enjoyed it. Those more intimately involved will get even more out of it.

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