Book of da Week: The Worst Journey in the World

The Worst Journey in the World
Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s glorious The Worst Journey in the World.

The Worst Journey In The World is considered the finest travel book ever! It’s placed above Marco Polo’s Travels, Kerouac’s On The Road, or Watership Down (which is, essentially, a travel novel when you think about it).

What better way to be inspired than to read the inspiring, eh? It’s The Worst Journey In The World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s vivid account of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition. It’s an epic read, an almighty piece or writing, and an inspirational tribute to the human spirit.

The Worst Journey in the World

In 1910 Cherry-Garrard, only 24, headed off to the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott’s team in an attempt to reach the Pole first. They also planned extensive scientific studies of the region, which led to a particularly amusing set of descriptions regarding the mischievous Adélie penguin colony there (which you can read on the Wikipedia page under Adélie penguin behaviour, as researched and written by Mr. Wapojif a few years ago). Our favourite extract is:

"Meares and Dimitri exercised the dog-teams out upon the larger floes when we were held up for any length of time. One day a team was tethered by the side of the ship, and a penguin sighted them and hurried from afar off. The dogs became frantic with excitement as he neared them: he supposed it was a greeting, and the louder they barked and the more they strained at their ropes, the faster he bustled to meet them. He was extremely angry with a man who went and saved him from a ver sudden end, clinging to his trousers with his beak, and furiously beating his shins with his flippers."

What follows in the rest of the book are Cherry-Garrard’s diary entries, along with those of other crew members, alongside the writer’s recounting of tales about the many hazards of the Antarctic (an almost entirely unknown wilderness back then).

In late 1911 Captain Scott led a party of five in a push for the South Pole, reaching it in January 1912. There they found they’d been beaten by Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s expedition a month earlier. Sadly Captain Scott’s party lost their lives on the dramatic trek back from the Pole; plagued by horrendous weather they were stranded by March.

The diary entries from Scott are poignant during this period, spelling out the impending doom of the team and Oates’ famous last words. Scott’s last diary entry was on the 29th March. Just over two weeks later the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, so this period marks a moment when The British Empire began to lean precariously to the left.

Take the Journey

What everyone can take from this masterpiece is the men who put their lives at risk in the names of scientific study. The British Expedition wasn’t about winning the race to the pole, it was about discovering an unknown wilderness. They achieved that and then some, with their little shack from 1912 still standing as a testament to their efforts.

This incredible book stands as a testament to that and is a time capsule for an era which seems so dramatic, modern, and yet archaic in our eyes. Buy it, read it, and place it proudly on your bookshelf. For England, James?

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