This year is the centenary of Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole, and publishers have jumped on the band sledge. The winner of the bid for territory goes to Antarctica: A Biography (Oxford University Press 614pp £25) by David Day, a historian and Australian national treasure. This enormous book approaches the subject head on. The colourful end papers are eloquent: the ‘New Map of the World 1703’ at the front shows a blank ‘taint of ignorance’ at the South Pole; at the back there is a more modern cartographer’s Antarctica, with its surrounding islands. What Day aims to deliver is the bit in between. The result is a clear and intriguing history of flag-raising.
How does one make a claim on a territory that cannot be ‘occupied’? The answer – with difficulty – is explained using a style that is history by anecdote. Explorers claimed and went, but commerce stayed. When French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot sailed the Pourquoi-Pas safely out of the pack ice