The Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1899 led by Adrien de Gerlache was the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic region. As the expedition's surgeon, Frederick Cook contributed greatly to saving the lives of the crew when the Belgica was ice-bound during the winter. Through the First Antarctic Night is Cook's first person account of his time with the expeditionThe Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1899 led by Adrien de Gerlache was the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic region. As the expedition's surgeon, Frederick Cook contributed greatly to saving the lives of the crew when the Belgica was ice-bound during the winter. Through the First Antarctic Night is Cook's first person account of his time with the expedition and the long Antarctic night spent waiting for the pack ice to break....
|Title||:||Through the First Antarctic Night|
|Number of Pages||:||520 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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Through the First Antarctic Night Reviews
Non-Fiction. In 1898-9, the members of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition became the first to winter over in the Antarctic region. Whether this was by accident or the result of secret maneuvering by Commandant Adrien de Gerlache, we can't know for sure, but Robert M. Bryce has suggested that de Gerlache had intended all along to drift, locked in the pack ice, to a new Farthest South, mimicking Nansen's attempt with the Fram in the Arctic.There were nineteen men on the Belgica, including first mate Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who would go on to be the first to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1906, the first to reach the South Pole in 1911, and the first to undisputedly reach the North Pole (in a repurposed Italian dirigible) in 1926. Also aboard was Frederick A. Cook, American physician, author of this account, and famous confabulist.If we know anything about Cook, it's that he had a habit of self-aggrandizement. Cook manufactured accomplishments like his "climbing" of Mt. McKinley and "attainment" of the North Pole, and even smaller things, like supposedly diagnosing Robert E. Peary with pernicious anemia (the disease that did finally kill him) long before it would have been detectable. The Belgian Antarctic Expedition took place before Cook was known as a shady character, and Through the First Antarctic Night was published in fall of 1900, nearly a decade before his honesty would be brought into doubt, but I still wonder if Cook got his start early and even parts of this were fudged.After a brief introduction, the narrative starts out in Rio de Janeiro where Cook is late to join the expedition, a last-minute replacement for the ship's original surgeon. The Belgica travels south along the east coast of South America, making stops along the way for supplies and opportunities for Cook's special brand of amateur anthropology. This portion is easy to read, with fine details about the land and people. It's also funny, though it's entirely possible that what I took as dry wit was actually humorless judgment. It's almost impossible to tell. Cook had a keen interest in native peoples and their traditions that, compared to others of his time, made him seem sympathetic, but it's clear he still considered them savages. His dismissal of the Fuegians' near extinction is high-handed, as is his assumption of American and European superiority. He has moments of enlightenment, but his sympathies are still heavily weighted towards white colonialists. That—and the constant use of stereotypes in referring to the people of Rio, Chile, and Patagonia—makes this section less easy to read.Next up: The Antarctic.Cook's observations on ship life are interesting, but his endless descriptions of snow and ice are less so. I struggled through the pages and pages of what color the sky was, and what shape the aurorae. There's very little description of his duties as ship's surgeon, and only glancing references to the general health of his charges. Any time he gets into something that requires a detailed or technical description, he does this thing like he thinks he's writing a novel and says, but I will not go into that any further lest it bore you or something of the sort. They were down there for more than a year, and mostly what we get out of him are weather reports. Despite a tendency towards purple prose (mostly in the weather reports) and an odd habit of occasionally referring to himself as "the doctor," Cook's still in fine humor, making jokes about penguins, and engaging in some clever word play (zeugmata!) that makes me think his dry wit was just that. Their return to Punta Arenas on March 28, 1899, marks the return of Cook's lively prose, including a wonderful passage describing how he and his fellow shipmates had forgotten how to walk on land and lurched about town as if inebriated, frightening the residents: "We spread our legs, dragged our feet, braced and balanced our bodies with every step, and altogether our gait was ridiculous. It may all be imagination, but we felt unnatural, as, indeed, we must have looked." I enjoyed his more serious take on the subject as well: "The sensation of having real earth under our feet was new to us. For more than a year we had roamed about over the moving frozen waters of the antarctic sea, with no sight of land, and no feeling of stability. When we mount the first hill we shall sit down and watch and wait to see if it, too, does not move like the hills of ice upon which we have rested so long."I love that sense of peace that solid ground gives them, but still it comes with a lingering distrust, that these hills, too, might start shifting around under their feet. Cook definitely had his moments.The text itself is in the public domain, and the copy I got my hands on is actually a reproduction by Nabu Press, who took an original copy out of the University of California library (it still has the stamps) and scanned it page for page. A disclaimer at the beginning warns that the book may have "occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages." And sure enough, page 54 is missing all but its last four lines. I assume Nabu sold this book for money, so maybe they should have done something about these imperfections "introduced by the scanning process" and stop acting like they're performing a public service by "preserving" culturally important works with pages missing.And, something that isn't Nabu's fault—I don't think—but I expected this to have more of Cook's photographs in it. He took hundreds of plates during the expedition, but the book includes less than a dozen. The janky digital copy I downloaded from Google had almost twelve times that amount.The appendices contain materials that came out of the expedition, articles written by Cook; Èmile Racovitza, Romanian naturalist; Henryk Arctowski, Russian geologist, oceanographer, and meteorologist; and Roald Amundsen. Of these, Amundsen's short piece is the most readable and made me curious to read more of his writing. The appendices also include various measurements, such as tables of nautical positions, magnetic deductions, soundings, temperature, wind direction and duration, barometric pressure, all of which were notable because they were the first sets of year-round data for this region. The book also has an index.Two and a half stars. I wanted more from this, but maybe that's just because it didn't offer me anything I hadn't already read in secondary sources. Like watching the movie and then reading the book, I was spoiled, and despite all its talk of snow and ice, I didn't feel immersed in its environment. I enjoyed parts of it, but I can't see this book being of much interest to anyone but Cook fans. Or, whatever the opposite of fans are. Cook trolls.