Mountains of Madness: A Scientist's Odyssey in Antarctica

John Long, Author, John Long, Author, Foreword by Tim Bowden, Author
John Long, Author, John Long, Author, Foreword by Tim Bowden, Author Joseph Henry Press $24.95 (270p) ISBN 978-0-309-07077-5
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Antarctica, once the center of the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana, contains some of the richest and best-preserved fossil deposits in the world. Long, a paleontologist, recounts his two expeditions (in 1988 and 1992) to Antarctica to recover some of these fossils. He relates details ranging from the thrilling to the mundane, describing plane rides to Antarctica, life at the base camp and his actual fieldwork. In a down-to-earth and often funny manner, he conveys a sense of the daily routine of a scientist living at the bottom of the world. At times the lay reader might get bogged down by some of Long's technical lexicon, but for the most part the author successfully intersperses accessible passages about the crew's more banal activitiesDcooking (including some recipes for Antarctic delicacies), celebrating Christmas, and playing in the snowDwith the passages concerning his work. Because these trips constitute Long's introduction to the continent, the book maintains a tone of immediacy and an infectious spirit of discovery, effectively articulating the awe experienced by first-time visitors upon confronting Antarctica's danger and beauty. Long supplements his own words with quotations from a variety of texts ranging from the diaries of famous Antarctic explorers to H.P. Lovecraft's fictional horror tale At the Mountain of Madness, from which this book takes its title. Although the narrative may not have enough action to satisfy hardcore exploration and adventure readers, it provides an informative, well-written and deliberate account of contemporary paleontological research, and presents some interesting theories on how Antarctica's resources could help solve certain environmental crises. Long's book should appeal to lay and professional readers interested in current scientific and ecological study. (Feb.)
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