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An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science
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An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  145 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Published to coincide with the centenary of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole, "An Empire of Ice" presents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration. Retold with added information, it's the first book to place the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and others in a larger scientific, s ...more
ebook, 360 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Yale University Press
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May 31, 2013 Fraser rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that I really wanted to like. Perhaps it is because I listened to it as an audio book, but I think not. The author made a strategic decision to tell the story of the antarctic exploration in chronological silos spanning the late 1800 to early 1900s. A chapter dealing with magnetism, a chapter on glaciology, a chapter on geography, a chapter on geology, etc. Into each of these chapters he drops personal tidbits and gossip, and makes an attempt at tying together threads of Empire, d ...more
Murdo Morrison
Oct 05, 2011 Murdo Morrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read a number of books about polar exploration. Many focus on attempts to reach the geographic north or south pole. This book focuses on the scientific aspects of various expeditions to Antarctica in the 19th and early 20th centuries making it a worthy addition to the literature. What is almost more interesting is the examination of the national and personal motivations that affected the ways in which the expeditions were structured. If you are interested in the history of polar explorati ...more
Sep 27, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
Extremely well-written account of the Discovery, Nimrod, and Terra Nova Expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century. The author fills a gap in the literature by concentrating on the scientific research these expeditions conducted. Quite interesting and if you are not familiar with the outcome of these expeditions, he strings you along quite well. And if you do know....his subtle comments pack a punch.
Sep 16, 2014 Drtaxsacto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you grew up when I did the stories of the races to the North and South poles were part of your history. Larson tackles the story in a very different way by looking at the various sciences that were advanced by going to especially the Antarctic. He weaves in the jealousy among the explorers and some threads which were current in science in the early 1900s but thankfully are no longer there (for example Eugenics). He also paints a picture of just how tough the experience of these early explorer ...more
Non-Fiction. A history, not of Antarctic exploration as I'd hoped, but of the science that grew out of that exploration. Each chapter is dedicated to a different discipline: terrestrial magnetism, oceanography, meteorology, biology, geology, paleontology, and glaciology among them.

The book primarily concerns itself with what's referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration—from the late-1800s to the turn of the century and a little beyond—and focuses mostly on the expeditions of Robert
I'm afraid I found this book to be more dry than I expected. And I don't mean in comparison to a novel, but in comparison to other non-fiction history books that I've read. Author Edward J. Larson describes the late 19th Century/early 20th Century explorations of Antarctica. It's a mix of personality, science, and adventure, but the mixture doesn't quite gel. I like reading about science, but I just couldn't get into descriptions of wind, ocean currents, and ice crystals. (The stuff about fossil ...more
Nov 22, 2011 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very interesting. Because I read it electronically, and I'm aging, the maps were impossible to read. However, I got out my huge National Geographic maps and you still couldn't make out much. It needed more 'local' maps.

I was enthralled during the first part, but the book slowed down over the remainder as it basically time-warped back through the same voyages focusing on different areas of science. The other thing I would fault it for is that it assumes you, you modern you, know the
Sep 09, 2011 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cold-books, audio
I love "cold" books and this is an interesting twist on the race to the pole. Or rather, I had always thought of it as the race to the pole. According to this book, polar exploration was about science as well as about empire. Scott was beaten to the pole because he took too much time for science whereas Amundsen was racing for the pole? Heck, I don't know but it certainly is an interesting twist and a different way to tell the stories of polar exploration. I love the story of the chilly (ha!) re ...more
Jul 13, 2011 David rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
Larson writes about the several British expeditions to Antarctica and the South Pole in the period before World War I. He demonstrates that the expeditions were fairly science-based and were expressions of national pride and British empire building. Books bogs down a bit in the review of scientific achievements but the effort these guys expended is remarkable. First book I've read on these expeditions that actually discussed how they went to the bathroom - sounds terrible. Interesting to read th ...more
Jul 02, 2012 DR rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to review the contents of AN EMPIRE OF ICE, but will have to settle for a critique of the book production. I first heard about this new take on Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton on NPR, Ira Flatow interviewing author Edward Larson--which got me excited about tracking down a copy. Ever thrifty, I put in a reserve request at the public library and received a brand-new copy at my neighborhood branch within a few days. Imagine my disappointment (on the heels of confusion) to discover that the ...more
Oct 08, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating, and quite surprising in some ways, look at the British explorers who braved the hardships of Antarctic exploration in the late-1800s and early-1900s. It was fascinating because of the in-depth discussions of the scientific aims of these explorations. More than mere "races to the pole," these expeditions had extremely important scientific goals in areas such as geography, geology, biology and botany, and more. Larson is one of the few authors who could make the study of th ...more
Dec 15, 2015 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: NPR Books
If you're looking for a story about Scott's and Shackleton's race for the South Pole, this is not it. Although An Empire of Ice includes information about the expeditions and their sledge trips, it is really a story about the scientific goals and results of the expeditions. For that reason, chapters are grouped by scientific discipline rather than chronologically through the book.

It's a fascinating book, and well-written, but I found myself wishing that I knew more about the current state of kno
I absolutely loved the topic of Antarctica, polar exploration, English Empire building, and the turn of the Century. But overall I would have to say I was a little disappointed with this book. It certainly was well researched and had a lot of information but the way it was organized made it extremely hard to follow. It read like a research paper with strings of quotes working as whole points instead of support.

I realize Larson is considered an excellent author, but I just wasn't sold. His other
Aug 14, 2011 Cleokatra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This book really annoyed be for the first 50 pages or so, because it just seemed like all these different personalities and I didn't find anything to be particularly likable. That early bit is necessary to set the stage for the rest of the book, which is about the history of scientific exploration in Antarctica.

There is some early mention of the Race to the Pole, which I am sure we are all familiar with, but the focus of the book is on the scientific aspects of the early Antarctic expeditions.
May 05, 2015 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Riveting account of the early exploration of Antarctica. I listened to the audiobook and feel like I missed out on pictures and maps that were probably included in the printed version. Still, it was really well-researched and finely written.
Dec 21, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't think that the audiobook format did An Empire of Ice justice. For example, this listener could have used some maps and photographs. (For example, where is Victoria Land?) I did spend some of my non-commute time checking out Wikipedia.

The book is intended to discuss the scientific focus (or scientific non-focus, in the case of Amundsen's polar trek) of early (mostly) British Antarctic expeditions. The author seems to feel that the quest for science is what made the "Heroic Age of Antarcti
Jul 29, 2013 Linda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The British Antarctic explorers always claimed that their main goal was scientific, even when it wasn't. The good adventure yarns are told elsewhere, and you should start with them if you're looking for adventure. This book is organized by scientific category (e,g., magnetism, penguins, ice...) and then each chapter's topic is treated chronologically. At times, this organization breaks the momentum, but it also offers a fascinating record of the advances in technology and scientific thought focu ...more
Aug 17, 2013 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am not a scientist. My eyes glaze over when watching Nova, yet I read Larson's book eagerly and with enjoyment. I learned a lot about the early scientific discoveries of Antarctica as well as about the race to the Pole. The way he wove the various expeditions together under a variety of scientific topics was only occasionally confusing. The beginning with Amundsen's successful reaching of the South Pole first to closing the book with Scott's fatal mission was masterful. I look forward to meeti ...more
I struggled with Larson's descriptions of Scott and Shackleton at the very beginning of the book, and thought I might end up not liking this one much. But once he actually got into the history of science in the Antarctic it became much more interesting, and I really appreciated the way he told that story, connecting these expeditions and the science they were doing to what was going on in the world at that time. I've read many books about these expeditions, but this is the only one I've run acro ...more
Melissa Embry
Aug 18, 2012 Melissa Embry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I'll admit -- I listened to this on audio, read by John Allen Nelson. It was August in Texas -- 100 degrees plus, and during some long car trips I cooled off just listening to discussions of Antarctic summer temperatures with highs of -20's and -30's F. The political wrangling in Great Britain over the pre-World War I expeditions of Scott and Shackleton was disturbing as was the insulting behavior toward Norwegian Amundsen for reaching the South Pole ahead of the unwieldy British teams. Overall, ...more
Jul 16, 2012 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting book, but also an example of how to ruin a good story. Larson is interested not in the heroic age of Antartic exploration but of Anarctic science. As a result, he tells the same story seven times over—from the perspective of geology, geography, ethongoraphy, etc. Not only does the story get duller, it gets more confusing, as you try to remember who was doing what at a similar moment in the previous chapter. But, still, what a story! The exploits of adventurers make the toils of th ...more
May 13, 2014 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-finished
The science was over my head and I lost interest. My bad.
Jan 02, 2016 Bryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book was very informational. It is written kind of like a text book. I did not really enjoy it, but there was a bunch of good information in there. I wanted to like it, but it was very dull.
Karen Morrill-mcclure
I really wanted to like this book, but I just found it boring. It was like warm milk, not unpleasant, but not exciting. I tried three different chapters, since they didn't seem to be in chronological order, and just couldn't figure out what point the author was making. It didn't help that I wanted to read about Amundsen, not the British explorers that this book focused on.
George Farrants
Jan 02, 2014 George Farrants rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the structure stimulating, arranged by topic rather than chronology.
Interesting material, a lot of it new to me, tha author has certainly found some intriguing original sources.
Jan 02, 2012 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The 1st book of 2012 and an interesting one at that! Larson clearly shows that the British attempts in Antarctica were about science as well as a race to the pole. I am following this book with one about the Norwegian's successful attempt on the pole.
I found this book quite interesting, as it looked at the exploration of Antarctica from the scientific standpoint - really explained how science drove the numerous expeditions and what was learned. A little dry at times, but quite worth the read.
Sep 29, 2013 Tim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At times a brutal read. There's a whole chapter on penguins. The author pushes the physical heroism to the margins, focusing on Antarctic science.
Sep 16, 2012 Leigh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basic ideas and premise of the book were very interesting and worthwhile, but I found it really hard to stay focused while I was listening.
Jeff Rudisel
Jan 10, 2013 Jeff Rudisel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history, 2013
Great science, great history, great history of science, great adventure, great biography, and in the end great pathos.
Great read!
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