Captain Robert Scott was a loser: the second person to reach the South Pole. In Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest, Sir Ranulph Fiennes draws a picture of a smart, ambitious young British naval officer trying to succeed.
Scott wasn't necessarily the kind of man you would think of as an explorer. When chance threw opportunity his way, he approached it with the methodical precision he showed in every other aspect of his life. Scott emerges as a discoverer more along the lines of Lewis and Clark than Christopher Columbus, a role that was taken up by his rival and nemesis, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Meticulously researched and detailed, Race to the Pole tells the story of Scott's two journeys into the frozen unknown. The first, from 1902 to 1904, was man's initial scientific foray to the southernmost continent; indeed, it was this voyage that determined that Antarctica was a continent. Fiennes makes it clear that the mission's success was due in large part to Scott's leadership and organization; just surviving temperatures of 30 degrees below zero is achievement enough, much less exploring one's surroundings. Scott's party ultimately ventured some 470 miles north of the pole, and returned to England to great acclaim with a wealth of scientific information. His second journey, while even more successful in knowledge gained, ended tragically for Scott and the four men who accompanied him on his final push for the pole. Ill weather and circumstance killed Scott and his party, who were driven on in part by the subterfuge of Amundsen, when they were only 12 miles from salvation. Years later, some of the surviving crew were bitter about their leader, but using their own diaries and contemporaneous writings, Fiennes makes it clear that this was bitterness brought on by age and regret.
As an experienced Antarctic explorer himself, Fiennes is uniquely qualified to counter modern researchers' criticism of Scott and to give a balanced portrait of this long-ignored hero.