cover image Empire Antarctica: 
Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins

Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins

Gavin Francis. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61902-184-6

In this engrossing account of a doctor’s 14 months at Halley, a British research station on the coast of Antarctica, what truly stands out is the book’s lyrical prose. Francis (True North) forgoes a burgeoning medical career in Britain to live at Halley with a multidisciplinary crew of scientists to study among Empire penguins during a winter season of complete darkness, with temperatures as low as 55 degrees below zero Celsius—cold enough to freeze boiling water in mid-air. While providing thoughtful observations on the life cycle and mating habits of the penguins, Francis also offers a history lesson about past Antarctic pioneers—Ernest Shackleton, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, William Spears Bruce—regaling the reader with the triumphs and failures of his predecessors. Despite struggling with the isolation and silence of Antarctic life, the author’s buoyant optimism keeps the narrative moving; he includes anecdotes about celebrating Christmas, making Easter eggs, even participating in “extreme ironing.” Through Francis’s juxtaposition of literary allusions and poetic descriptions of the Antarctic sky, the vibrant rookery of penguins, and aurora australis, the reader gains new perspective on the frozen continent. Photos. Agent: Jenny Brown, Jenny Brown Associates (U.K.). (Oct.)