An Empire of Ice

Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science

Edward J. Larson

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From a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, a riveting account of the great expeditions of Antarctica's Heroic Age that restores their status as grand scientific enterprises

Published to coincide with the centenary of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole, An Empire of Ice presents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration. Retold with added information, it's the first book to place the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and others in a larger scientific, social, and geopolitical context.

Efficient, well prepared, and focused solely on the goal of getting to his destination and back, Amundsen has earned his place in history as the first to reach the South Pole. Scott, meanwhile, has been reduced in the public mind to a dashing incompetent who stands for little more than relentless perseverance in the face of inevitable defeat. An Empire of Ice offers a new perspective on the Antarctic expeditions of the early twentieth century by looking at the British efforts for what they actually were: massive scientific enterprises in which reaching the South Pole was but a spectacular sideshow. By focusing on the larger purpose, Edward Larson deepens our appreciation of the explorers' achievements, shares little-known stories, and shows what the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery was really about.

Edward J. Larson is University Professor of History and holds the Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. His numerous books include Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in History. Larson splits his time between Georgia and California.

An Empire of Ice reflects exhaustive digging and reaches well beyond the standard source materials. . . . Larson provides enough fresh perspective that even devotees of polar literature will learn things.”—Jennifer Kingson, New York Times Book Review

“A far more interesting and richer account than we have had thus far. . . . Larson has written a fascinating book, one sure to force a rethinking of the Scott-Amundsen race as well as reconsiderations that will include science as a driving force in Antarctic and indeed polar exploration.” —Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Science Magazine

"The author provides an undeniably exciting account without overpowering the reader with too much detail. Fans of these explorers, science heads, and armchair travelers will find this a worthwhile and thrilling read."—Mike Rogers, Library Journal

“Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Larson sheds new light on the famous three-way race to the South Pole....A satisfying tale of adventure and exploration.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Larson succeeds in this approach to the popular subject of polar exploration by wrapping the science in plenty of dangerous drama to keep readers engaged."—Booklist

“Larson’s beautifully written narrative takes in the triumph and tragedy of the polar expeditions, and sheds new light on the scientific culture of the age. Entertaining, informative, and based on impeccable research, this book is a wonderful achievement.”—Peter Harrison, author of The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

“A riveting account of science, courage, and endurance, revealing that along with dreams of glory the quest for knowledge of Antarctica drove the explorations of the icy, forbidding continent.” —Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

“A fascinating account of the extensive and varied scientific research conducted by daring explorers racing to be the first to reach the South Pole. Whether he is discussing the first observations of the life cycle of the Emperor Penguin, the mapping of the ocean floor, or experiments in terrestrial magnetism, Larson’s book sparkles.”—Bernard Lightman, author of Popularizers of Victorian Science

"Science is sometimes dull, but never in An Empire of Ice. Here the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward J. Larson tells the gripping story of the scientific exploration of Antarctica, where intrepid naturalists, often risking their lives, struggled to learn about emperor penguins, massive glaciers, and frozen fossils." —Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Edward Larson reveals that British exploration of the Antarctic was no mere 'dash to the pole', but an extended effort to conquer the last great wilderness for science."—Peter Bowler, author of The Earth Encompassed and Evolution: The History of an Idea

"Empire of Ice is a new take on polar exploration of the early 20th century.  It puts expeditions by Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton et al. into a wider scientific, social and geopolitical context."—Travel Book Seller

“…… [An] enlightening and entertaining new book, An Empire of Ice, seeks to rescue the exploits of Edwardian derring-do from the condescension of posterity by showing us how much more there was to what his subtitle refers to as the heroic age of Antarctic science.”—Robert J.Mayhew, Times Higher Education

“In this fascinating book…..Larson’s intriguing accounts begin to reveal the bigger picture of early scientific research in Antarctica and its place in European geopolitics of the time.”—Michael Bravo, New Scientist

“Larson is a brilliant researcher, going far beyond the standard source materials, so even devotees of polar literature will learn things”—Jennifer Kingson, The Scotsman

“This is a great and needed book, highly worth reading whether your Antarctic focus is history or science.”—The Antarctican Society Newsletter

"Extremely well written and documented, An Empire of Ice is a gripping account that reads almost like a thriller."—J.D. Ives, Choice

“…. [A] riveting account.”—The Good Book Guide

 “An insightful, accessible, enlightening account of an age when exploration ‘reflected the values of the Edwardian age: fitness and science mattered.’”—Publishers Weekly

Awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards

Shortlisted for the 2012 Hessell-Tiltman prize. The prize of £3,000 is awarded annually for a non-fiction book of specifically historical content.
ISBN: 9780300188219
Publication Date: December 4, 2012
344 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
54 b/w illus.
On Faith and Science

Edward J. Larson and Michael Ruse

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