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Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Antarctica: A Biography (Oxford University Press), by David Day

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Antarctica is a vast continent with no permanent inhabitants, yet the inhospitable landmass at the basement of the world is essential to the global ecosystem. David Day’s massive, fascinating history uncovers many interesting details. The ancient Greeks guessed at the continent’s existence, and although the intrepid Capt. Cook failed to find it, a Russian explorer finally sighted it in 1820. Day covers the race to reach the South Pole and the often-comical efforts by a gaggle of nations to claim pieces of the continent as their own. Shots were occasionally fired and nations normally allied, such as Australia and the U.S., tussled. The Argentines turned Antarctica into political opera in the ’70s when the country’s president addressed his nation via television from the icy continent and shipped in a pregnant woman to give birth to the Antarctic’s first child. Developers, smelling opportunities for tourism and oil exploitation, have been held at bay by a coalition of scientists and environmentalists.