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Icy Graves - new account of those lost

Icy Graves is a moving, readable yet forensic account of the terrible deaths in Antarctica of the explorers who gambled with their lives to bring back scientific data about that vast and little known continent.

Category: General
Posted by: Rod

Written by the historian Stephen Haddelsey Icy Graves points to our more recent understanding of the effects of the cold, blizzards, ice-blink and white-out on human physiology and psychology to reinterpet these earlier deaths. Did Scott’s open sleeping bag and arm thrown over Edward Wilson show that he was suffering from the final stages of hypothermia, the stage in which paradoxically sufferers cast off their clothes?

The incidence of death was high in the Heroic years, defined by Haddelsey as 1895 – 1922. He says that of the 664 men from all nations who were in the Antarctic during these years nineteen died: that is a one in 30 chance of death. In the decades after the first permanent Antarctic base was built by the British the chance of death were very little different.

Each of the Antarctic deaths in Icy Graves has its own personal story of endurance, circumstance, risk and bad luck. Considering there was little or no training in ice craft and knowledge of this hostile environment was passed from year to year by those with experience from the previous year it is surprising that more did not die. As Sir Ranulph Fienes says in a quote on the cover one is "both appalled at the losses, and amazed that the exploration of Antractica has not claimed even more lives."

Haddelsey analyses the risks these explorers took. He questions and finds answers to the enigma of whether these explorers were irresponsible risk takers or methodical men making careful preparations for expeditions, knowing the risks and being caught out by ill-luck.

Icy Graves is a fascinating, erudite un-put-downable story about a period in Antarctic exploration that needs to be heard. Read it.

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