THE LAST GREAT QUEST: Captain Scott's Antarctic Sacrifice

Max Jones, Author . Oxford Univ. $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-280483-9

In an earnest attempt to add a compelling new dimension to the story of Capt. Robert F. Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911, Jones, a University of Manchester lecturer, instead becomes bogged down in miscellany. Scott and his team's deaths on the frigid Antarctic expanse as they made the 800-mile journey back to their ship after discovering they'd been beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen almost a month earlier has proven rich book fodder over the last 92 years. Jones eschews straight biography or adventure narrative to provide what he sees as a needed cultural context for Scott's voyage and its aftermath. He writes, "The legendary figures who first ventured into the unknown remain impenetrable, unless we apprehend the world which made them." To recreate that world, Jones begins with a detailed history of the establishment of the Royal Geographic Society, sponsor of many of the great British explorers, and concludes with an examination of British heroes in the first part of the 20th century, connecting Scott to Dr. Livingstone and Robert Peary. In between, the book makes thorough examinations of such disparate and seemingly irrelevant topics as the raising of money for and the erection of monuments to Scott and his party, and the fierce public debate over the admission of women to the RGS. The result, unfortunately, is a jumble. Jones has done some admirable research of primary sources, but he lacks the organizational acuity to make this a convincing book. 60 photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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