Review: The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole, Roland Huntford, 1979, 1999.
The Prussian General Moltke the Elder divided military officers into four categories using two criteria: smart-stupid, ambitious-lazy. There is a place for almost every type. The smart and lazy can be commanding officers. The smart and ambitious can be staff officers. Stupid and lazy officers can serve in the line.
But there’s no place for the stupid and ambitious officer. He must be drummed out of the service. He’s a menace to the military and his troops.
Under that criteria, if British polar exploration of the early 20th century would have been conducted on strictly military lines, Captain Robert Falcon Scott would have been expelled from service.
Scott’s disastrous expedition to the South Pole is, along with the doomed Franklin expedition and the Shackleton expedition’s spectacular survival, the most well-known episode in polar exploration. Huntford’s biography is a thorough and convincing attack on the legend of Scott and was hostilely received in Britain on its publication. Scott doomed himself and his man through incompetence and poor leadership. Continue reading