Why are stories about polar exploration, and the resulting disasters, so appealing? Are the icicle-laden beards and mustaches of our heroes to blame? The poor frosty gents certainly have my respect and admiration, even if they were sometimes motivated more by vainglorious ambition than the pure search for knowledge. Their heroic stories of endurance and survival will make you feel like a puny, loathsome wimp, but that’s okay. The rest of us were meant to read about thrilling and dangerous missions, not go on them. These books will illuminate the life-and-death travails, the good leadership and the bad, and the legacy of these explorers.
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. This is a first-person account of Robert Falcon Scott’s last, tragic expedition to the South Pole in 1912, recounted by a surviving member of the group. It’s a gripping story of monumental suffering and hardship.
Ada Blackjack: a true story of survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven. Read this for an incredible story of a young Inuit woman, Ada Blackjack, who emerged as the sole survivor of a disastrous Arctic expedition to Wrangel Island in 1921, and how she endured for six months alone on a frigid, desolate island by hunting foxes and seals.
The Man Who Ate His Boots: the tragic history of the search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt. This is a history of the futile search for the legendary Northwest Passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the various ill-fated voyages that became trapped in the perpetually icebound waters.
Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the first flight to the North Pole by Sheldon Bart. American Richard Byrd and Norwegian Roald Amundsen were bitter rivals, both intent on being the first to fly over the North Pole. Controversy has always clouded this feat: Amundsen had to rescue Byrd, leaving the world to wonder who reached the Pole first.