Book Review: Slicing The Silence

Since The Son and The Daughter came I have become an armchair adventurer rather than an outdoor adventurer. The tale of Shackleton’s adventure to Antarctica has always fascinated me; Trapped in ice for months and sailing to rescue in a small boat to an island hundreds of miles of away. I am always stunned that his entire crew survived in a situation where none should have.

I came across a blurb about Tom Griffiths’ Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica in National Geographic’s Adventure magazine.

The author traveled to Antarctica and kept a diary. This book mixes entries from his diary with the history exploration of Antarctica and settlement on the icy continent. The book is about the enduring power of the “heroic era” stories of exploring Antarctica, as Edwardian figures sledged across the inhabited expanse of snow and ice.

[Antarctica] is a place where nature is lethal, humans are always just visitors and the land is covered by ice kilometers deep. This is a landscape in which the laws of chemistry and physics – and indeed the power of metaphysics – predominate, and terrestrial biology looks very marginal indeed. The ocean is where life is: the largest land animal is a mite. The ice is massive, deadly and – in spite of its own variety – reductionist. It simplifies and universalises

Griffiths does a great job of summarizing the history of exploration, living on Antarctica and the implication of Antarctic research on human behavior. He puts in contrast the easy death of humans on the continent with the abundant life in the ocean just offshore. He moves onto the current technology and climate research at the Antarctic bases. In this place where humans can barely exist, we are learning more about our world.

In the end, people go South to Antarctica “for purity, solitude, otherworldliness; they go there for the silence.”

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