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South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery

Long-distance swimmer and author Lynne Cox traces the path of polar explorer Roald Amundsen – just in time for the centennial of his arrival at the South Pole.

By David Hugh Smith / October 5, 2011


Roald Amundsen stuck the Norwegian flag into the South Pole on December 14, 1911. He and his party of four men and 18 sled dogs were first to reach the southern tip of our planet.

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It was a monumental achievement. Despite great scientific advances in the early 20th century, the South Pole was the lunar mission of that era.

But for Amundsen, it wasn’t technology that enabled him to succeed where others had failed. It was wise preparation, total dedication, and the small army of sled dogs from Greenland.

As Lynne Cox shows in her new book South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery, each chapter in Amundsen’s life was a big step closer to the South Pole – and contributed to his understanding the extreme challenges and dangers of polar exploration.

But Cox wants her book to be more than just a biography of an explorer. She states in her Preface: “[P]eople, places, things from the past [are] guides, as true and dependable as the stars, the planets, and the sun that guide great navigators across the earth, seas, and heavens.”

Cox interweaves segments about Amundsen and the explorers who prepared the way for him with extensive narration about cold-water distance swims she has made in places Amundsen would have known. The intent, as she describes it, appears to be to show how Amundsen, and the others, have been “my waypoints and my inspiration.”

Indeed, Cox herself is an explorer of sorts. She’s swum the English Channel. And she has conquered bodies of water in places few have even attempted swimming. Perhaps most significant, along with swimming the Antarctic, was her crossing of the Bering Strait in 1987, from Alaska to the Soviet Union, which Mikhail Gorbachev himself praised several months later at a meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

Nonetheless, a reader keen to learn about Amundsen may become frustrated. For the most part, the endless, diary-like details about her swims are a poor fit with Amundsen’s great journeys – diversions that neither forward an understanding of Amundsen’s life nor provide convincing evidence that Amundsen serves as a waypoint for hers.

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