Best Antarctica Books
Antarctica Books for Antarctic Travelers and those dreaming of the Poles
If you are on your way to Antarctica this next season then keep reading. If you are dreaming about Antarctica, keep reading, and if you are inspired by polar travelers of yore and of present – keep reading. Below are some of the best Antarctica Books
No Antarctica trip is complete without reading at least one (if not a few) books about the continent before going. Yes you will see penguins and whales and some amazing icebergs, but the human stories are equaling interesting and they help bring this vast wilderness to life.
Antarctica remained largely unexplored for many centuries. The ice effectively kept sailing ships away. Only the advent of steam power, along with the desire for seals and whales, government interest, and human curiosity and adventure brought humans into this very desolate and challenging realm. There is likely much more sealer and whaler history and adventure than we will ever know, as they kept their exploits and locations secret – trade secrets – no giving away locations to a competitor. Thus today the fame lies with the government and private sponsored expeditions – those out for adventure and science and less so for commercial value – Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen instantly come to mind.
I polled fellow Antarctica guides, English professors, past travelers, Literature scholars, Antarctic Scientific Researchers, government workers from national Antarctic stations, and even Antarctic Authors themselves coupled with my own reading to come up with this list.
So for polar explorers of the modern day – please read on to be inspired prior to your trip either to the continent or to the day dreams of the white continent. If you have read others that you think are worthy of the list – please let me know, I’m happy to add them.
The books are organized below by loosely by genre
Antarctica Classics – First Person Narratives:
These Antarctica books are classics for a reason. These were the explorers who defined Antarctica and their stories deserve to be read.
South, By Ernest Shackleton. One of the classics and written by the master himself. Read about his incredible journey first hand. This adventure / journey / mis-adventure / test of leadership is one of the most inspirational of the Antarctic tales and is one reason it shows up in various books just on this list alone.
The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen is a personal favorite. In the Scott v Amundsen debate I fall in favor of the Norwegian. This is a tale of adventure, but also the tale of a well planned, well executed expedition.
Shackletons Boat Journey by Frank Worsley – The captain of the Endurance, the vessel that took Shackleton’s crew down south. same amazing story, different perspective!
The Voyage of the “Pourquoi-Pas?”: The Journal of the Second French South Polar Expedition, 1908-1910
The Voyage of the Pourquois-Pas by J B Charcot – French explorer, scientists, and medical doctor built his boat, Pourquois-Pas (translation “Why not?) for his second Antarctic Expedition and winter-over at Petermann Island in the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard – tells the fatal tale of the Scott expedition from the perspective of the young assistant zoologist on the expedition. Cherry-Garrard was also part of the team that found Scott and his tent the next season after they never returned from the Pole. This book is often found on many “best of” or top 100 adventure tale lists.
Antarctica: Or, Two years amongst the ice of the South Pole by Otto Nordenskjold tells the amazing tale of Swedish explorer Nordenskjold. Nordenskjold was dropped off for the winter and the next season the vessel that was supposed to pick up his team got stuck in the ice. This is the story of the adventure, skill, and amazing twists of fate that played out on this expedition.
Southern Lights by John Rymill is the account of the British Graham Land Expedition from 1934-1937. considered one of the last great expeditions of the “heroic age”, 16 men spent their time using new and old techniques to scientific explore and document the Antarctic Peninsula.
Antarctica History and Exploration:
The Storied Ice by Joan Boothe is an excellent compilation of the history and exploration in the Peninsula region, where most passengers explore the Antarctic continent.
“Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing is the classic tale of Shackleton’s incredible voyage. First published in 1959, Lansing had the advantage of time, access to surviving members and to all journals and diaries to put together this comprehensive tale of the “incredible journey”.
Below the Convergence by Alan Gurney covers some of the earlier Antarctic history, prior to the more famous adventures of Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton. This helps place Antarctic in its proper historic context – one of extremes and of a very hard to access place, let alone determine if it even existed.
The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration)
Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford is one of the classics on this famous South Pole rivalry and a great read. Scott fans beware, Huntford has a clear perspective on the two rivals.
Forgotten Footprints: Lost stories in the discovery of Antarctica by John Harrison is another excellent overview of Antarctic exploration history and also with a bent towards the peninsula. A great read for those visiting the peninsula, as many of the sites visited are discussed in the book.
Modern Day Antarctica Tales and Adventures:
‘Last Man Off’ by Matthew Lewis is an amazing tale of survival – think the Perfect Storm meets Antarctic waters. Matt Lewis joined a fishing boat bound for Antarctic waters as an onboard biologist, expecting a bit of a holiday. That quickly turned south as a large storm overtook the boat. This will make you learn to appreciate the value of a survival suit!
Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler recounts Wheeler’s seven months in Antarctica, spending time in both US and British bases. She reviews the history of Antarctica, the current culture at scientific bases and brings a human touch and understanding to what is Antarctica today.
Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, is a great easy read. I’ve not met anyone who hasn’t liked it. Its modern day story told through emails, notes, and letters. The story follows an Architect and her family – a Microsoft engineer, and super bright daughter through their at times absurd, but also seemingly normal life. The Mother starts using a personal assistant via email in India, dramas at the revered private school, parental gossip and drama, and in the end Antarctica saves them all. It’s a fast and very enjoyable read with clear and enjoyable connections to Antarctica.
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson, is a novel based at McMurdo Station, incorporating science and life in extremes. Robinson uses themes from other novels as well as his time as an NSF artist in residence to pull off this Antarctic novel.
But Who goes there? By John W. Campbell, Jr. Science fiction is a Sci-fi novella from 1938 and the basis for the sci-fi classic “The Thing”. Antarctica, aliens, and scientists all come together for this thriller!
Lonely Planet Antarctica – Believe it or not, this book has some of the best overall summaries of history, nature, and places you might go, and loads of great trivia throughout. It also has sections on the many “gateway” towns you might go through to get to Antarctica. It is really a must have for any Antarctica trip.
South Georgia – Not Antarctica, but some great reads worth mentioning
Logbook for Grace by Robert Cushman Murphy – is an adventure of a marine biologist who joins a whaling vessel to gain access to South Georgia – in 1912-1913!
Ambassador to the Penguins: A Naturalist’s Year Aboard a Yankee Whaleship by Ellie Mathews – The same story as logbook for Grace, but enhanced by his granddaughter years later, with details added to the account.
A big thanks to friends who contributed their favorite Antarctica books to help with this guide – Larry Reitz, David Moore, Karl Read, Diego Punta Fernandez Maji Bransfield, Peter Divine, Lia Von Damm, Casey Youngflesh, Katherine de Tolly, Professor William Howarth, Ted Cheeseman, Juliette Hennequin, Ezio Plenizio, Lorraine Barba, and Yinan Wang, Happy Reading to all and I’d love to hear about other gems that are out there!
This guide includes “affiliate links” for readers who want to buy. While all the products are independently chosen, Quixote Expeditions may earn a commission on purchases through the affiliate links.
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