Kostya Kennedy
November 05, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

There have been dozens of books about Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic quest, but this is the first by a man who has trekked on foot to both Poles, hauled heavy sledges over pack ice, and knows firsthand how it feels to get gangrene on a polar expedition. (It’s also the first by a cousin of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.) As the author notes in his introduction to this compelling book, ”To write about Hell, it helps if you have been there.” Scott’s ultimately tragic run to the South, racing Roald Amundsen in 1911, has been the stuff of legend — and controversy. Ranulph Fiennes illuminates nuances of the adventure and carefully debunks most of the second-guessing. On Scott’s losing a sledge that falls through the ice, Fiennes writes that after 25 years, ”I still find myself unable to predict the weight-bearing behavior of different ice types.” Fiennes’ keen observations in Race to the Pole give Scott’s now-familiar story a fresh and unique power.

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