THERE ARE LOTS of books about polar explorers of the so-called heroic age. More than fifty biographies have been written about Scott of the Antarctic alone; punch the word 'Shackleton' into the search field on Amazon and you get an astonishing 530 references. Most additions to the corpus of polar literature these days are rehashes of the same archived research material, or are simply glorified diaries of recent expeditions, cobbled together quickly in an attempt to claw back some of the considerable expenses associated with them. Sir James Wordie, Polar Crusader, Michael Smith's well turned-out biography of a subject who is rather difficult to pin down, is neither, drawing largely on personal recollections of family, friends and col- leagues, as well as previously unpublished papers and diaries, most notably those of Wordie himself.
During his lifetime Wordie was an avid collector of books about polar endeavour. By the time of his death in 1962 he had amassed a remarkable total of some 4,500 volumes on the subject (including some impossibly rare first editions and translations).