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Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  974 ratings  ·  65 reviews
It is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, an icy desert of unearthly beauty and stubborn impenetrability. For centuries, Antarctica has captured the imagination of our greatest scientists and explorers, lingering in the spirit long after their return. Shackleton called it "the last great journey"; for Apsley Cherry-Garrard it was the worst journey in the world.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 16th 1999 by Modern Library (first published January 1st 1996)
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Simon Ph.D.
Once in a while a person accidentally stumbles on an especially annoying book. One written particularly because a desperate publisher made a phone call, or mailed a letter with a check to an author with the words: "It's time to write another one, Shirley..." and the author hurled herself to write, without a plan, without ideas and the only thing that came out was a dull diary filled with self pity, anti-Americanism, sexism and generally criticism... Well, this is one of those books and I truly f ...more
Alex Kurtagic
Writing a boring book about the most extreme environment on Earth is quite a feat, but this author achieved the seemingly impossible. I pushed through to the end, but it felt like wading through mud. The book is mostly about Wheeler's personal feelings and reflections about Antarctica during her seventh-month visit to the continent, and while she had read the literature of exploration, she was not able to supply anything profound or remotely interesting; her literary style is pedestrian, her ins ...more
I usually enjoy travel books written by women. Antarctica is on my bucket list. I ran hot and cold on this book. I more enjoyed the experiences she had with the interesting people and characters she met along the way than with the history lessons. I understand the need to put some of what she saw in historic perspective. It took me a long time to get through this book, I think because I felt it would come to a screaming halt each time she gave one of her history lessons. Don't get me wrong I fin ...more
Richard Simpson
Wheeler manages to humanise the Antarctic,to give an icy abyss a human face. Most of all she achieves this with her historical lessons, a retelling of the endeavours of Scott and Shackleton, for example, but which she also tries less successfully with her metaphors which liken the colours of the landscape to identifiable features of human life, i.e. 'The sky was streaked with faint emerald shadows, splaying out in several directions to the horizon, changing shape, spreading and bleeding into the ...more
Paul Cheney
In her writing, Wheeler has a knack for immersing herself in the places that she visits, and teasing out the stories of the location and the people.

She has been appointed writer in residence in Antarctica, and sets about visiting as many of the bases across the continent that she can. Her easy going manner makes it easy for her to fit in with the predominately male staff. She writes about the characters in each of the bases, and the antics that they get up to, and the way that they cope with the
Jan 11, 2011 Jen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Armchair travelers who have trouble with cold climates
Summary from the back of the book: "It is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, an icy desert of unearthly beauty and stubborn impenetrability. For centuries, Antarctica has captured the imagination of our greatest scientists and explorers, lingering in the spirit long after their return. Shackleton called it "the last great journey"; for Apsley Cherry-Garrard it was the worst journey in the world. This is a book about the call of the wild and the response of the spirit to a country that ...more
This book is a fascinating account of life on Antarctica, and the allure that the continent has had on previous generations. This is primarily a travelogue, but does describe the early exploration of Anatarctica and some of the current research efforts. In the first part of the book, Sara describes in an abundance of detail the characters she meets and daily activities on several research bases. It seems a bit long-winded, but at the same time, I thought it was indicative of the landscape. Much ...more
In a nutshell:

During her travels in Chile, British travel writer Sara Wheeler was introduced to the allure of Antarctica. Later she gets the opportunity to visit Antarctica, sponsored by the U.S. funded Writers and Artists program. The scientists and other Antarctic inhabitants take her along to their bases and camps spread out over the vast, extreme continent.


Last month I read White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, a thriller set in the Antarctic. In that novel, the continent had a wil
Sometimes beautiful, sometimes a little tedious, but mostly a great read, especially (as has been noted by others) the last third, which takes place in winter. Up until that point, Wheeler's vignettes sometimes seem a little scattered, which perhaps makes sense, as she seems to spend her time flying from one camp to the next, never spending too much time in one place or with the same people. It's interesting to get a feel for the differences between camps there, about the types of people who end ...more
I love, and loved everything about this book, from the cover which is incredible to the pages within.
I read it about 10 years ago, well after it was written and it held up and even expanded upon a second read. How it existed in my memory was simply an essence, a whisp of it's feel and to revisit that sensation and have it enlarged upon was a true treat.
This book is incredibly personal and the language and reflections so exceptional I want to give it to all of my closest friends and family so the
I have mixed feelings about this book. It took me a long time to get through it. Part memoir, part history, the author describes her visits to Antarctica as a writer-in-residence. Sometimes I enjoyed her history lessons (she is a scholar of South Polar expeditions), sometimes they got in the way of the narrative. Sometimes her descriptions of living in Antarctica made me feel like I was there, and sometimes they were tedious. The most interesting parts for me were when she compared her experienc ...more
In one phrase: "Terra Incognita" is captivating from the first paragraph to the last. Wheeler is that rarest of authors: She has created a book that is part essay, part memoir and part history that alternates between musings on her experiences as a researcher at the South Pole, the scientific goings-on she is observing, and the century of explorations that precede them. Her use of language is superb: highly "literary" but always accessible, and the story with which she frames the book -- her yea ...more
Gill Crane
Brave lady! A great account of a trip to the Antarctic and I enjoyed every minute. She isn't very complimentary about the British Scientific Survey team and I subsequently met one of them who was there at the time. He refused to comment but I got the impression she wasn't on his Christmas list!
British woman writing about Antarctica. Maybe a little longer than it needs to be. She intersperses stories about the 'original' explorers (especially the big four: Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and Mawson) with her own experiences. Apparently she's been a little obsessed with it for a while, and she arranges to spend some time there as a (relatively rare) resident writer. Most current 'inhabitants' are scientists ("beakers") of various nationalities---more New Zealanders than you might expect. I ...more
I really enjoyed reading abaout Sara Wheeler's adventures in Antarctica. Sara is writer from England who had a fascination with Antarctica and was able to get herself signed up in the Arts and Literature Program on the American base in the South Pole. Her writing is insightful and at times comical. Along with her day to day experiences traveling around the pole and visiting with various outposts of different countries, Wheeler recounts the stories of the early pole explorers that I found even mo ...more
Read this book for Southwest evening book group - interesting account by an English travel writer. Having seen a couple of films on PBS about English polar explorers Scott (who died on the ice) and Shackleton (who rescued his stranded "Endurance" crew in an unbelievable adventure), reading about actually living and working in the Antarctic was enjoyable. Some of her writing describing the people she encountered was annoying -- a little too "precious" for my taste. But her descriptions of the lan ...more
I enjoyed this book a lot, though the occasional scientific diversions sometimes distracted from the narrative.

The author is a great writer, with lots of colorful and descriptive tools in her arsenal. I enjoyed the fact that she wove historical anecdotes and scientific concepts into the book. The main scientific thrust of this book is the effect that climate change is having on Antarctica, which is awful but true. Still, I felt that was a bit too much of a focus.

But when she's writing about the
Young British travel writer spends the better part of a year in Antarctica. Her narrative shifts back and forth from her present to Antartic history, so that at first I felt yanked around. But overall I "really liked" this book, with its vivid descriptions of otherworldly terrain, fauna, and human beings. The human population is quite diverse in terms of nationalities, but quite homogeneous in terms of age, gender, and occupation. This is because you can't go to Antartica unless you are in good ...more
Alan Thomson
Excellent account of her stay in the Antarctic. Very well written with lovely insight into life near the pole
I really liked Terra Incognita. Sara Wheeler is hilarious, and I loved the little bits of humour that she interspersed throughout her narrative. Plus, I loved Seismic was like a bit of a love story interwoven into the first part of the book...he was sorely missed by me in the rest of it. :P

Anyway, after reading this one, I'm definitely tempted to start planning my trip to Antarctica, it'd be a great place to spend my winters....since it's warmer there then in Canada at the time...24 hou
Sep 06, 2007 Steve rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: armchair travelers, Romantics
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
Beautiful, desolate, remarkable, harsh -- Antarctica is the last place on earth you'd expect to support a tourist industry, but it does. Sara Wheeler didn't just visit, though, she LIVED there for a year -- and you could say that it destroyed her life. The Ice has a nearly hypnotic pull, and those who have lived at the bottom of the world through the long polar winter can't seem to keep themselves away. Maybe it's because everything is so harsh and stark and simple.

A classic travelogue, both a j
Meh. So disappointed in this book. I'm Fascinated by Antarctica, the history of its exploration, the life and science practiced there now. This book was almost enough bore me out of that interest.
Beverly Hollandbeck
This is one of those books you read because it is not something you'd really like to experience in real life, a vicarious book. I loved it!
I learned that the Americans at McMurdo Base in Antarctica are much more fun than the Brits at Rothera research station. The Italians have a pretty good time there too, and they know how to eat especially well there. A great book to read about what is going on at the research bases, and inforamtion about some of the early discoveries. Even though its been over ten years, I think it probably gives an accurate picture. Opened my eyes to the wonderment of Antactica, made me crazy for penguins all w ...more
Duncan Grassick
An awful book which can neither present a vivid image or bring the reader to empathise with the environment because it is written in such a self interested and simplistic way. Dreadful.
I haven' read any other books by Sara Wheeler, but I feel kind of guilty that I haven't.

This was a fascinating read, so much more to Antarctica than I had realised both in terms of the landscape and environment as well as within the research taking place there with the various nations and their bases.

Wheeler manages to combine so much of interest and some personal narrative too, you genuinely feel you are along on the trip, so good is her prose at times.

Highly recommended.
As a writer in Antarctica Wheeler had the ability to travel to much of the continent's significant locations. Her story was as much about her own travels as about the explorers that came before her. In this I learned a great deal about their lives. Wheeler also did a magnificent job of conveying how the trip changed her, from the physical feats to the emotional aspects. I garnered a new appreciation for those that trek to the South Pole.
Incredibly pretentious. I was excited to read about Antarctica but I found it tough to get through this one.

The short bursts of history really disrupted the flow of the book. I'm very interested in Ross/Shackleton history but I have to admit, I found myself skipping to the end of some of these paragraphs. It was putting me to sleep. I want to hear about Antarctica and not the words you picked up in your closest thesaurus.
And so we returned from the mysteries of the Antarctic, with all its white-bound secrets still unread, as if we had stood before ancient volumes that told of the past and the beginning of all things, and had not opened them to read. Now we go home to the world that is worn down with the feet of many people, to gnaw in our discontent the memory of what we could have done, but did not do. – W.G. Burn Murdoch
Mar 27, 2012 Kate rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: travel
A female travel writer going to Antarctica sounded so exciting, but I took forever to finish this book. I was hoping for something more like Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. This just seemed too irreverent for my tastes. Sara Wheeler was a writer-in-residence who got to travel all around the continent and spent a long time there, but her notes seem too flimsy and insubstantial.
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Sara Wheeler was brought up in Bristol and studied Classics and Modern Languages at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. After writing about her travels on the Greek island of Euboea and in Chile, she was accepted by the US National Science Foundation as their first female writer-in-residence at the South Pole, and spent seven months in Antarctica.

In her resultant book Terra Incognita: Travels
More about Sara Wheeler...
Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey Through Chile Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton The Magnetic North: Notes From The Arctic Circle Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard O My America!: Six Women and Their Second Acts in a New World

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“I believed that what mattered to God was the direction I was facing not how far away I was. Sin it seemed to me was the refusal to let God be God.” 4 likes
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