So much has been written about Antarctica. Inquisitions into the exploits of Scott, Shackleton, Mawson and others from the heroic age of exploration are legion. Literary scientists have dissected the continent with poetic precision. Yet, for all this profusion, you’re hard pressed to find anyone with much good to say about the place. Perhaps this is because it lacks the charm of the Arctic, whose history is rich in hope and incident. Instead, all is gloom, from the tragedy of Scott’s diaries to reports of disintegrating glaciers that will eventually flood the world. So it comes as a relief to read Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Land of Wondrous Cold, which seems not to give a toss for calamity. Cold begone! Here be wonders.
Wood, an Australian-born scholar resident in America, approaches Antarctica with refreshing breeziness. Land of Wondrous Cold has at its heart three competing expeditions, all of whose members braved the bottom of the world in the mid-19th century. From Britain came James Clark Ross, discoverer of the North Magnetic Pole, commanding