The best books about British explorers freezing to death in Antarctica

Who am I?

I'm a science fiction writer. If you write about time travel, one of the things you have to worry about is changing the past, the ‘gun for a dinosaur’ effect. If you go to the past and kill that dinosaur, will it affect the present? Maybe that dinosaur was the ancestor of all mammals. So, if you want to steal something from the past and bring it to now, you have to choose carefully. Something that has left no biological footprint. When I got that far, I remembered that Titus Oates walked off into the storm in Antarctica, never to be seen again, to save his companions. His body is still out there, frozen in a glacier … or is it?

I wrote...

Revise the World

By Brenda Clough,

Book cover of Revise the World

What is my book about?

He said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since. On March 16, 1912, British polar explorer Titus Oates commits suicide by walking out of his tent into an Antarctic blizzard, to save Robert Falcon Scott and the other members of the English exploration team. His body is never found — because he was snatched away into the year 2045 by scientists experimenting with a new faster-than-light drive.

The first section of this novel appeared as a novella in Analog Science Fiction magazine (April 2001) under the title “May Be Some Time.” It was a finalist for both the Nebula and the Hugo awards.

The books I picked & why

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The Worst Journey in the World

By Apsley Cherry-Garrard,

Book cover of The Worst Journey in the World

Why this book?

This is one of the greatest memoirs of Capt. Robert Scott’s last and fatal expedition to Antarctica, written by expedition member Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The ‘worst expedition’ in the title is, believe it or not, not even the one where Scott’s entire party starved and froze to death on the way back from the South Pole. It’s about an earlier jaunt by the explorers to try and acquire the egg of the emperor penguin. Only after that did Scott make his shot for the Pole, get beaten to the punch by Roald Amundsen, and then died, trapped in his tent in a blizzard, on the way back. Even though everyone knows how it’s going to end, you can’t put Cherry’s account down. One of the great adventure narratives of all time.

The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole

By Roland Huntford,

Book cover of The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole

Why this book?

Robert Scott was a failure, and beloved for it. He died like a British hero should, gallantly and writing it up in his journal. He, and the four other men who died with him, are memorialized all over Britain: plaques, statues, museums. Huntford is the first modern historian to kick a hole in that mythology, pointing out the many mistakes that Capt. Scott made that, cumulatively, doomed his quest for the South Pole. Was it really sensible, to put cavalry captain Titus Oates in charge of the ponies but then not let him choose the animals? For that matter, ponies? On a glacier? Huntford contrasts him to Scott’s rival the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who did everything right, breezed to the Pole with teams of sled dogs, and even gained weight on the way back.

Scott's Last Journey

By Robert Falcon Scott,

Book cover of Scott's Last Journey

Why this book?

One of the things that made Scott’s expedition legendary was the photographs. His was the first scientific expedition to include a professional photographer on staff. Herbert Ponting used the cameras and glass plates of his time, and the images are stupendous. This book reproduces all the great ones, images that renovated the human imagination and which you can see to this day imitated in movies and special effects. 

South!: The Story of Shackleton's, 1914-1917

By Ernest Shackleton,

Book cover of South!: The Story of Shackleton's, 1914-1917

Why this book?

Ernest Shackleton was Scott’s rival and companion, the one who was smart enough not to die. A later Antarctic explorer, Sir Raymond Priestly, famously said, “For scientific discovery give me Scott. For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen. But when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Shackleton’s last expedition was the stuff of legend. His ship the Endurance was trapped in the ice for ten months, and finally crushed by the ice and sunk. Shackleton marshalled his men to march across the floes dragging their boat, and then they sailed across the polar seas to Elephant Island where they finally were rescued more than two years after they set out. It’s an almost unbelievable feat.

The Coldest March

By Susan Solomon,

Book cover of The Coldest March

Why this book?

Author Susan Solomon is a senior scientist with the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. She has uncovered what I believe is the real reason why Scott’s party couldn’t stagger back to safety. In the polar regions, the reason is always the climate. Even if you prepare carefully and well, sometimes it’s just too cold for human life. Scott and four companions were fighting an unbeatable foe, and they knew it. They died gallantly anyway, which is why a hundred years later we haven’t forgotten them. Solomon’s book came out in 2001, and she brings the tools of modern climate science to bear on Scott’s fate.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Antarctica, explorers, and the South Pole?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Antarctica, explorers, and the South Pole.

Antarctica Explore 30 books about Antarctica
Explorers Explore 68 books about explorers
The South Pole Explore 5 books about the South Pole

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Eothen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East, Big Dead Place, and Ice Bound if you like this list.