29 August 2010

The end of the earth: book review

End of the EarthEnd of the Earth by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Matthiessen writes about two journeys to Antarctica, one from Tierra del Fuego in South America to the shore of the Antarctic Peninula west of the Weddell Sea, and the second from Tasmania to the Ross Sea, almost on the other side of the continent.

On both occasions he travelled on Russian ships, which, because of the economic situation in Russia, no longer ply the northern coast of Russia, but find tourist trips at the other end of the world more profitable.

Matthiesen describes not just the journeys, but the history of the places they visit, most of which have no permanent human inhabitants. He describes the wild life (most of the passengers of the ships are keen bird watchers), and the highlight of the second trip, the Emperor Penguin, the only bird species on earth that never lives on land, and breeds on the ice shelf.

I would probably not have given the book a second glance if it had not been going cheap at a sale, and two things made me buy it. Last year I went to a gathering at African Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg, where Michael Cassidy showed slides of a trip to Antarctica that had been a 70th birthday present. He had followed more or less the route of Matthiessen's first trip from Tierra del Fuego, and having seen the pictures I was quite interested to read about it. A second reason that I had read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard and At play in the fields of the Lord.

I thought this would be a book that I might dip into, and read a few interesting parts of, but as I read I became quite absorbed in it. It is more than just a travelogue, but it is also the story of our planet.

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