Archive for August, 2013

South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition – Sir Earnest Shackleton CVO

Posted in Books on August 27, 2013 by thecognitivekey

This is an account of an impressive achievement. The expedition set out just as the First World War started…technology was very limited. All the things we take for granted now, mobile phones, satellites, motor sledges, wind-proof clothing and so on, none of it available. Men leaving Europe for a hostile environment with no hope of any immediate rescue should there be an emergency. Are there people like that around now?

The expedition had several thrusts. The main force on Endeavour to cross the Antarctic on foot. A further force to drop supplies along the route from the other side. Superb organisation was required.

The Endeavour struggled in the ice packs and eventually was trapped in the ice and was crushed. The drew then took to the ice and lived for several months on the ice floe, eventually managing to reach land and set up camp. Shackleton was in this group and leaving the bulk of his crew on land he and 5 others took a small boat and sailed to South Georgia (about 800 miles) for help. It took 2 weeks and when they landed three of them crossed the ice bound island to reach the whaling station and help. They then picked up the remaining crew on South Georgia before returning to the Antarctic to collect the men who had been left there.

The men laying supplies lost contact with their ship (whose travails are also described), but they continued with their task in laying supply drops. Eventually they too were rescued. Three men were lost.

On their return after more than 2 years away the men signed up to fight in the war.

This book describes a way of life that probably no longer exists. It is difficult to put yourself in the minds of these men who were so exposed and likely to lose their lives at any time. Dedication to the cause in the extreme. It was a fantastic feat, despite being a failure in its overall aims. The journey to South Georgia is impressive in itself, the whole expedition is just jaw dropping.

Shackleton is a man of his time. A great leader.


Would this expedition happen today I kept asking myself. Are there such people around now? I guess there are, just the challenges are different.

The journey to Mars is looking for volunteers, a possible one-way journey – I’d do it if I was young enough. Would I have gone to the Antarctic with Shackleton? Probably not – too cold for me.

At the end of the book are a series of short scientific articles. The main scientific research couldn’t be done due to the loss of the ship, but such was the dedication to the cause that the scientists measured what they could. Most interesting of these articles was the one of whaling which recorded the rapid reduction in the numbers of whales and which proposed an international body to oversee whaling.

A good read. Lots of description about the ice, but it still manages to hold the attention and describe just how close to utter disaster the whole expedition was.


At The Earth’s Core – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Posted in Books on August 8, 2013 by thecognitivekey

It took an age to wade through the Hugo dross so it was a complete relief to be able to pick up a book and just read it through almost without pause.

This is an old book, and it shows its age in parts with the attitudes being those prevalent of the day. However I can cope with that, all books are of their time.

The important part is the story. This is a fast paced tale, a bit patchy in parts, and the hero often assumes Flash Gordon attributes in that he is supreme in so many different areas. Sporting prowess, linguistic ability…he has it all, but it all just adds to the tale. No word is wasted as he overcomes all the challenges in his path, and there is a twist at the end too. Not too much of a twist, but it’s there.

This is a fun read. A couple of days and it’s over, but the feeling of having read a good tale is palpable.

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Posted in Books on August 5, 2013 by thecognitivekey

A big book, renowned the world over in the format of stage show and film. Obviously it is in French so I have read a translation.

I don’t normally persist in reading a book that is poorly written, time is short and there are so many more books that deserve attention. Les Miserables is poorly written, no that doesn’t do justice to the other books I have read, Les Miserables is a dreadful book. There is a story within it, and I assume that the film and stage versions have extracted that meagre story from the mire that comprises most of the book.

At first I didn’t know how bad it was, it seemed to drift and there were pages of trivia, the first 100 pages are devoted to the life of a character who plays a minimal part. Why waste all that time? There is a long essay on the Battle of Waterloo just to place a single action on another character. So, boring. Hugo takes every opportunity to waffle and give his opinion. I cared for neither. Fifty pages on the sewers of Paris so the hero can make his escape through them. Madness. I don’t mind things being put into a historical context but this is taking things to an extreme.

I did read the book to the end, but after about two-thirds I was able to recognise the waffle and rubbish and speed read those sections. I did it so I can say I have read the whole…so that I know the truth about this book…it is awful.

As I said there is a small tale woven into this tripe. I guess that it would make a nice short story and I can see that the film and stage people would love it. It’s not really my sort of story though. A sort of love story wrapped around a tale of pathos, or was it a tale of redemption? I didn’t care by the end.

To be honest I have the greatest admiration of the person who discovered the story…it was only the renown of Les Miserables that made me carry on. What drove the early readers to complete it I could not guess. I shan’t be reading this book again, nor has it encouraged me to want to see it at the cinema or theatre.