Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Roof at the Bottom of the World:
Discovering the Transantarctic Mountains
By Edmund Stump
Yale University Press

Don't mistake this for a glitzy product of the new Arctic and Antarctic tourism.  These photos were taken over a period of some 40 years by a geologist who has explored the entirety of this mostly unknown but titanic system of mountains that spans the continent of Antarctica.  Together with his text, this is not only an amazing book for armchair adventurers, it is a real contribution to knowledge.

The text is largely comprised of accounts of the major explorations (including excerpts from diaries and notes), with maps of the routes and coordinated photos, but the author weaves in his experiences and observations.  The text takes more space than the photos, so this is a substantial work.  But the photos are excellent and well presented. As a book it's got the heft and size of old-fashioned geography books, and it's published to last.  So it will not only repay many hours of reading and perusing, it will stand up to use.  The prose is clear and without frills.  There will be no doubt that Stump is a geologist.

There is inevitably some sense of elegy as well as history, as this was the last frontier on the planet, and because the effects of global heating are changing the continent. The explorations were not only discoveries of what is there, but of the illusions of what some thought was there.   But the wonder of these unimaginable mountains and the other outsized sights of Antarctica are on every page. 

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