cover image Antarctica’s Lost Aviator: The Epic Adventure to Explore the Last Frontier on Earth

Antarctica’s Lost Aviator: The Epic Adventure to Explore the Last Frontier on Earth

Jeff Maynard. Pegasus, $27.95 (260p) ISBN 978-1-64313-012-5

In this middling history, author and documentarist Maynard (The Unseen Anzac) tells the story of Lincoln Ellsworth, a “wealthy and eccentric” American who, despite disliking cold weather and physical labor, aspired to fly across Antarctica in 1935. Maynard teases out the skeletons in Ellsworth’s closet—his insecurities, his unhappy childhood, his obsession with Wyatt Earp, his homosexuality—while layering obstacle upon obstacle, including the fact that Ellsworth did not know how to navigate or ski when he set out on his first polar adventure in 1925 with seasoned explorer Roald Amundsen. Readers seeking heart-racing snowbound adventure will twiddle their thumbs as Ellsworth writes check after check to finance his caprice. Maynard details the international scandals and ego clashes in the making of this most unlikely quest. More interesting are Ellsworth’s attempts to outmaneuver Admiral Richard Byrd, who was threading the icebergs and pressing further south than Captain James Cook had in 1774. Accounts of the activities of Russian icebreakers and the O-12, the first Arctic submarine and a counterpart to Jules Verne’s Nautilus, make for good reading. The heart of this story, however, is not Ellsworth but the then-uncharted Antarctic continent, depicted lyrically as unnamed mountain peaks, jumbled compass readings, and “undulating white silence stretched to the horizon in every direction.” Only readers particularly interested in that region will stick it out for the duration of this journey. (Feb.)