Book of the Week -11/10

To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration

By: Edward J. Larson

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, an entwined narrative of the most adventurous year of all time, when three expeditions simultaneously raced to the top, bottom, and heights of the world. As 1909 dawned, the greatest jewels of exploration— set at the world's frozen extremes— lay unclaimed: the North and South Poles and the so-called Third Pole, the 'pole of altitude,' located in unexplored heights of the Himalayas. Before the calendar turned, three expeditions had faced death, mutiny, and the harshest conditions on the planet to plant flags at the furthest edges of the Earth. In the course of one extraordinary year, Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson were hailed worldwide as the discoverers of the North Pole; Britain's Ernest Shackleton had set a new geographic farthest-south record, while his expedition mate, Australian Douglas Mawson, had reached the south magnetic pole; and at the roof of the world, Italy's Duke of the Abruzzi had attained an altitude record that would stand for a generation, the result of the first major mountaineering expedition to the Himalaya's eastern Karakoram, where the daring aristocrat attempted K2 and established the standard route up the most notorious mountain on the planet. Drawing on extensive archival and on-the-ground research, Edward J. Larson weaves these narratives into one thrilling adventure-story. Larson, author of the acclaimed polar history Empire of Ice, draws on his own voyages to the Himalayas; the Arctic; and the ice sheets of the Antarctic, where he himself reached the South Pole and lived in Shackleton's Cape Royds hut as a fellow in the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. These three legendary expeditions— overlapping in time, danger, and stakes— were glorified upon their return, their leaders celebrated as the preeminent heroes of their day. Stripping away the myth, Larson, a master historian, illuminates one of the great, overlooked tales of exploration, revealing the extraordinary human achievement at the heart of these journeys.

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