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Distributed for Reaktion Books

South Pole

Nature and Culture

As one of two points where the Earth’s axis meets its surface, the South Pole should be a precisely defined place. But as Elizabeth Leane shows in this book, conceptually it is a place of paradoxes. An invisible spot on a high, featureless ice plateau, the Pole has no obvious material value, yet it is a highly sought-after location, and reaching it on foot is one of the most extreme adventures an explorer can undertake. The Pole is, as Leane shows, a deeply imagined place, and a place of politics, where a series of national claims converge.  
Leane details the important challenges that the South Pole poses to humanity, asking what it can teach us about ourselves and our relationship with our planet. She examines its allure for explorers such as Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen, not to mention the myriad writers and artists who have attempted to capture its strange, inhospitable blankness. She considers the Pole’s advantages for climatologists and other scientists as well as the absurdities and banalities of human interaction with this place. Ranging from the present all the way back to the ancient Greeks, she offers a fascinating—and lavishly illustrated—story about one of the strangest and most important places on Earth.

224 pages | 70 color plates, 30 halftones | 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 | © 2016


History: General History

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“As the quintessence of Earthly remoteness, Antarctica has drawn hordes of scientists, iconic explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen, and novelists who have peopled it with vast humanoid lobsters or radioactive elephant seals. Historian Elizabeth Leane tours the research, literature, exploration, and geopolitical maneuverings that swirl around the pole. Hers is a detailed, compelling portrait of a place at once central and marginal, fantastically inhospitable and beautiful, and a mecca for physicists, government claimants, and extreme tourists.”


“South Pole is an enticing cultural and natural history of this real and yet elusive place.”

Sydney Morning Herald

“Weaves together mythology and tales of ancient speculation, the sledging journeys of the early twentieth century, scientific investigations, environmental issues, political negotiations, and new challenges of tourism. Leane draws on stories from researchers to describe what it is like to live in a place where every direction is north. A fascinating journey from ancient Greece to the modern day on an unexpectedly rich theme.”


“Leane has managed to capture the essence, the allure, the mystique, and the magnificence of this isolated, featureless place on the earth, presenting it in such a way that it combines history with geography in a manner that entertains as well as educates. If you are an armchair explorer or traveler you will definitely enjoy this journey!”

Blue Wolf Reviews

“This is a work that has to be considered a real contribution to the better understanding of a range of important Antarctic matters. With Leane’s clear and straightforward writing, this book will surely encourage not only polar experts, but also a wider public to take a lively interest in the many stories of the South Pole.” 

Imago Mundi

“Musicians, artists, writers, and sculptors are among those to have visited Pole in the years since Amundsen led the way, and it has left its mark on all of them. This is a highly readable study of the world’s most remote destination.”

Geographical Magazine

South Pole is well-written, beautifully produced on fine quality paper and well illustrated, with over half the photographs, paintings and diagrams in color . . . a particularly well-produced book, well written and interesting to read.”

Geological Journal

“I found this book a very informative and surprisingly entertaining read that covers a wide variety of Antarctic topics . . . Leane has made a very good job of relating and collating the experiences and impressions of the many and varied visitors to this ‘symbolic heart of Antarctica’ and its place in our quest to understand our planet.”

Polar Record


William Mills prize for non-fiction polar books 2018

Table of Contents

1. Where is the South Pole?
2. Maps and Mythologies
3. Polar Imaginations
4. Pole-hunting
5. Settling in at ‘Ninety South’
6. Highest, Coldest, Driest
7. Looking Up and Looking Down
8. South Polar Politics
9. Pictures of Nothingness
10. Adventurers and Extreme Tourists

Select Bibliography
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgments

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