The literature of Antarctica is almost as vast as the continent itself, and therefore is updated regularly, as new research is done and new books are written. One new book combines both scientific research and a breezy, anecdotal style to present a serious yet entertaining look at the Seventh Continent.
Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2013), is the latest book by Dr. Gabrielle Walker, a science writer with a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cambridge University. She has explored many of the Earth’s farthest corners, including the White Continent and the Amazon, and is a specialist in climate change and energy. She reports regularly for the BBC.
She describes Antarctica as “a place of romance, adventure, humour and terrible cost,” and her book as “a natural history of the only continent on Earth that has virtually no human history.” All of those attributes come forth as she tells of the strange characters, both human and animal, that she has met there. She writes of how “the burning of oil, coal and gas has significantly changed our atmosphere, taking it into unnatural and potentially very dangerous territory.” She illustrates both the sexism she encounters from scientists who think she doesn’t belong among them and the camaraderie of the research crews from various countries.
Like many explorers before her, she revels in, and is terrified by, the discoveries she makes. Many of those explorers did not live to tell their whole tale. The technological advances that make such trips easier do not make them all that much safer, and Walker has a great respect and love for the icy place she likens to the planet Mars. That shows through in her writing. Anyone who wishes to discover what Antarctica is about should take a look at this book.