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.
That’s too bad! Before “South,” she wrote two excellent books specifically about her swims. First was “Swimming to Antarctica,” which detailed many of her long-distance and cold-water swims in gripping detail, leading up to her astonishing 25-minute, 1-mile swim in Antarctica. “Antarctica” is a page-turner, with brilliant descriptions of her swim environments and locations. Then there is the wondrous “Grayson,” about swimming with a baby gray whale off the California coast.
Separating out much of the material about swimming in “South,” along with the chapters at the end about today’s challenges flying to the South Pole, there is a core book here that is vivid and compelling.
Cox describes in horrifying detail how Amundsen, as a young man, almost perished in the snow. One winter he and a friend went skiing along a plateau west of Oslo, Norway. They took insufficient food and equipment, became lost, and when night fell Amundsen built himself a snow cave. Melting snow formed ice, which entrapped him, and if not for the efforts of his friend, Robert Falcon Scott would now be credited as being first to the South Pole.