Polar explorer’s great adventure
The White Darkness
By David Grann, Simon & Schuster $39.99
This incredible little book may only take a day to read but the images, impressions and inspirational accounts of the polar explorers will remain with you. Henry Worsley was a retired British army officer who had served in the Special Air Service, he was a sculptor, boxer, photographer, horticulturist, devoted husband and father but above all a polar explorer who had as a young boy become obsessed with Ernest Shackleton. Although Shackleton never completed his journeys, he has become a legend, an example of courage and leadership that Henry, as a young army officer used as his leadership style with his first command.
You are drawn immediately into the drama and extreme conditions of travel in the Antarctic as David Grann describes Henry’s solo journey in the opening chapter. He travelled alone pulling a sled with food and equipment 800 miles through the most brutal environment in the world. He climbed the Titan Dome — 10,000ft high after crossing ice fields with hidden crevasses, sheltering for days during blizzards, whiteout conditions but still 200 miles to go. Just when history was within his grasp, he understood that not everything, least of all the Antarctic, can be conquered. Within defeat there can be the triumph of survival, so he chose his family over glory. Prior to his solo journey, in 2008 he set out across Antarctica with two other descendants of Shackleton’s crew, battling freezing desolate landscape and physical exhaustion to try to reach Shackleton’s furthest point on January 2009 exactly 100 years later.
Illustrated with more than 50 stunning photos from Worsley and Shackleton’s journeys, this is a book you will want to keep and share. The earlier expeditions by Scott, Amunsden and Shackleton are summarised brilliantly and offer new insights into these expeditions.
David Grann is a staff writer at the New Yorker and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. It is fascinating to read these accounts of battling the extreme conditions, the almost inhuman challenge of polar exploration but I am left wondering “why would you?”