Fearful Symmetry

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A Teacup In A Storm by Mike Conefrey

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A Teacup In A Storm

A Teacup In A Storm

This was a Christmas present – the sort of book I would not normally buy for myself. It’s basically one of those things you are supposed to dip into but I ended up reading it cover to cover. This may give you some idea on how good I thought it was. It’s basically about exploration in all it’s aspects going into some detail for landmark journeys; covering mainly mountain climbing, in particular Everest; the Arctic and Antarctic, in particular the various races to the poles; plus various expeditions into Africa across Australia etc. Short, easy to read segments, are interspersed with lists, such as what various polar missions had for Christmas Dinner and extractions from publications. The latter includes some hilarious advice on how to avoid begin eaten by a big snake, apparently you let it eat half of you then stab it in the head. Don’t try that at home.

Whilst seemingly light and trivial, at it’s heart the book tries to answer a simple question: why do some explorations fail and some succeed? It seems to be mostly down to the character of the people, especially the leader. The way the he (and it’s almost always a he) picks his team, plans the mission and then manages the actual exploration is critical. A balance has to be struck between boldness and caution and simply knowing when to give up to save your men.

This is shown in incisive detail when looking at the race to the South Pole. Scott failed partly because he tried to do too much (taking a scientific mission along with him whilst Amundsen just concentrated on the pole. In the end Amundsen was a ruthless professional, playing minute attention to his equipment (Scott under-funded had to, largely, take what he was given), splitting his party to avoid disagreements. He had learnt from the way the Inuit operated on the ice and had planned to kill some of his dogs on the way – something Scott, the gifted amateur, found abhorrent. Scott was brave, but in the end died because of it.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 6, 2009 at 9:38 am

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