Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait by Gabrielle Walker
This book is a great place to start for all things Antarctica. Walker spent a year on the white continent visiting several bases to see what it’s really like to live and work there. She follows scientists searching the Dry Valleys for tiny bacterial life that may give clues to what life might be like on Mars. She scanned the snow in harsh conditions searching for meteorites and visited the Dark Sector where the telescopes live. Walker gives the best descriptions that I’ve read of what it really feels like to be there over the winter with the isolation and feelings of madness and cabin fever. The history of Antarctic exploration woven throughout completes the book and gives the reader a thorough overview of the continent. If you only read one book on the list- make it this one.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Shackleton’s unintended voyage across the south Atlantic was incredible indeed. He and his crew set sail in 1914 to Antarctica with the intention of crossing the entire continent by foot. Only a day before they were scheduled to arrive, they found themselves locked in pack ice. After ten months, the ship was finally crushed and the crew were forced to make a decision. They decided to brave the frigid ocean in a small lifeboat to find the tiny island of South Georgia, 850 miles away, a seemingly impossible endeavor. What followed is a survival story for the history books, retold in this classic.
Empire Antarctica by Gavin Francis
This is a thoughtful meditation on Francis’ year in Antarctica working as a basecamp doctor. He lived at Halley Research Station, nicknamed “Starbase Halley” where “it is said to be easier to evacuate a medical casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in the winter.” He speaks to life without the distractions of everyday life during the long Antarctic winter. He also fulfills his lifelong dream of spending time with Empire penguins as they overwinter while protecting their precious eggs huddled in a pack. This is a lovely meditation of life in Antarctica and quietly delightful.
Alone on the Ice by David Roberts
This is the little known and amazing story of Douglas Mawson, a geologist who led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) to an unexplored section of Antarctica from 1911 to 1914. The purpose of the expedition was to chart 2000 miles of the coastline to the south of Australia and to gather scientific data. Mawson’s journey was eclipsed by the race to the South Pole that was occurring at the same time, an endeavor that Mawson had no interest in. Mawson and two others formed a survey team and had a successful five weeks of exploring when suddenly one of the men, six dogs, the tent, food rations and other crucial gear fell into a crevasse. This epic story of exploration, survival and tenacity is a must read for any Antarctic adventure lovers.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time. It’s about Bernadette, a woman in Seattle dealing with the chaos of motherhood, career, ambitions, a Microsoftie husband and passive aggressive private school moms. What does this have to Antarctica? Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, is promised a family trip to Antarctica if she aces her report card. And Bernadette, who is fraught with anxiety and agoraphobia, can’t think of anything worse than a trip to the end of the world.