The best books about the South Pole

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the South Pole and why they recommend each book.

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The Last Place on Earth

By Roland Huntford,

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

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.


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 Matchstick Castle

By Keir Graff,

Book cover of The Matchstick Castle

This madcap book, about a boy and girl who discover a crazy mansion in the forest that looks like it was built by a drunken madman, made me laugh out loud. As they join forces with the house’s unforgettably weird inhabitants to try to save the house from the wrecking ball of a “crazed bureaucrat,” it’s impossible not to be drawn in. It’s one of those quirky adventure stories where every twist and turn comes from seemingly nowhere, while also making perfect sense. Plus: wild boars! Graff has made a career out of creative stories populated with memorably eccentric characters, and this one is my favorite. 


Who am I?

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life as a journalist, a dining critic, or a humor columnist. But over the past ten years, my reading choices have been influenced less by, say, The New Yorker, than by my daughter, Hannah. As she grew from Knuffle Bunny to Junie B. Jones to Judy Moody, so did I. And when she began reading middle-grade novels, I did too. Then I began writing them. There is something amazing about the endless possibilities of a kid’s imagination before they get cynical and start to care about things like being cool that makes middle-grade the sweet spot for ideas. It’s like Hannah came along and recalibrated my brain—for reading and writing alike.


I wrote...

Penelope March Is Melting

By Jeffrey Michael Ruby,

Book cover of Penelope March Is Melting

What is my book about?

Something sinister has come to Glacier Cove, an icy-cold town on top of an iceberg. And the only person who seems to notice is a 12-year-old bookworm named Penelope March. When Penelope meets a mysterious man in an ice house who seems to know terrifying secrets—not only about Glacier Cove but about Penelope herself—she is pulled into an ancient mystery and a confrontation with the coldest, cruelest enemy ever known. It’s an offbeat, imaginative adventure story full of horror, humor, and heart, with a razor-sharp female protagonist and a supporting cast of fearsome and lovable characters. Also, magic cookies, volcanoes, chainsaw art, and a submarine staffed by military penguins.

Hoosh

By Jason C. Anthony,

Book cover of Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine

A gumbo of meat (often penguin), fat (typically blubber), and maybe some crushed-up biscuits, “hoosh” is the catch-all term used for meals of desperation cooked up and choked down by different historical expeditions, and it’s an apt title for Jason C. Anthony’s engaging and unique look at a slice of Antarctic living. Forget Shackleton’s heroics—what did he eat? How did early explorers survive on penguin eggs? Exactly how desperate does one have to be to eat seal brains? Why is baking at South Pole Station so difficult? Why was the Russian base Vostok stocked with so much vodka? (A question that probably answers itself.)

Anthony is a support staff veteran who has done a number of stints at various research stations on the seventh continent, and his wry narration—which weaves historical accounts with his own experiences—is great fun to read. I only encountered this book after South Pole Station was…


Who am I?

I’m a Minnesotan, so I thought I was a cold-weather badass, but it wasn’t until my younger sister winter-overed at South Pole Station in the early 2000s that I realized that Minnesota is a balmy paradise compared with the ice chip at the bottom of the earth. Her adventures at 90 South inspired my interest in Antarctica, the history of how humans interact with extreme and dangerous natural environments, and the social dynamics of a community trying to survive in the most remote location on the planet. That interest grew so intense that I ended up spending four years researching and then writing a novel set on the seventh continent—South Pole Station.


I wrote...

South Pole Station

By Ashley Shelby,

Book cover of South Pole Station

What is my book about?

Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority? How many alcoholic drinks to you consume a week? Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver? These are some of the questions that determine if you have what it takes to survive at South Pole Station, a place with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year. Cooper Gosling has just answered five hundred of them. Her results indicate she is abnormal enough for Polar life.

Unmoored by a recent family tragedy, Cooper’s adrift at thirty and—despite her early promise as a painter—on the verge of sinking her career. So she accepts her place in the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica, where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own. Then a fringe scientist arrives, claiming climate change is a hoax. His presence will rattle this already-imbalanced community, bringing Cooper and the Polies to the center of a global controversy and threatening the ancient ice chip they call home.

Alone on the Ice

By David Roberts,

Book cover of Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

If you like books about epic expeditions, along the lines of Shackleton's Endurance, when the grand explorers of the early twentieth century had yet to reach the most remote regions of the world—books filled with more danger than fiction authors could imagine for a plot—tales of endless grit and survival—then you’ll love Alone on the Ice.

Combining his mountaineering expertise with his writing talent, author David Roberts brings you along with Douglas Mawson and his entire crew on the most incredible polar expedition, a complex story that involves sub-stories about other explorers and expeditions. (Mawson was a crew member on one of Shackleton’s early expeditions who almost reached the South Pole.) Unpacking the details takes a little time, but once you get acquainted with all these incredible people, you won’t put the book down. We modern adventure-seekers have a lot to learn from these pioneers. 

A gripping story…


Who am I?

An ultra-endurance athlete, world adventurer, and award-winning author, Jean-Philippe Soulé has a passion for people, travel, culture, mountains, oceans, jungles, and the rest of the great outdoors. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau and other grand explorers before him, Jean-Philippe spent his childhood navigating life-changing experiences and pursuing personal achievements. After two years in the elite French Special Forces Mountain Commandos, driven by his desire for adventure, his yearning to discover new lands and culture, and his heartfelt interest in meeting diverse peoples, he left his native France to travel the world. This quest morphed him from a starry-eyed child to a recognized explorer, but only at the cost of abandoning the conditioning of the modern world and daring to do the impossible: a lesson he hopes will encourage others who refuse to accept being told “they can’t.”


I wrote...

Dancing with Death: An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Epic Travel Adventure

By Jean-Philippe Soulé,

Book cover of Dancing with Death: An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Epic Travel Adventure

What is my book about?

Dancing with Death combines themes from all the books listed below - Travel, Adventure, Culture, Endurance, Grit, Survival - in a transformational journey of self-discovery best described by these quotes:

An unforgettable escapade of ultimate danger and discover...” - Joel Dennstedt (author), Readers’ Favorite

"What the power of human will can accomplish is inspiring, emotional, and empowering.” - The Book Review Directory

Dancing with Death is a tale of adventure, sacrifice, and physical endurance with amazing cultural encounters all wrapped in good old-fashion storytelling. Two men, three years, seven countries, 3000 miles...

The Coldest March

By Susan Solomon,

Book cover of The Coldest March

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.


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.

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