Into the Great Emptiness: Peril and Survival on the Greenland Ice Cap

Norton. Jul. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780393868111. $30. HIST
This superb book by the late Roberts (The Bears Ears: A Human History of America’s Most Endangered Wilderness), who passed away in 2021, reintroduces the public to the Arctic explorer Henry George “Gino” Watkins and his exploits, focusing particularly on the 1930–31 British Arctic Air Route Expedition. In 1930, in support of a proposed air route from Europe to North America via Greenland, the 23-year-old Watkins and his team set out to explore the island’s forbidding east coast and establish a weather monitoring station in the middle of its ice cap. Roberts recounts how the ambitious expedition turned into a rescue operation in the spring of 1931, when repeated efforts to relieve the solitary team member manning the station were frustrated by snowstorms, failing equipment, and unrelenting ice. Balancing a suspenseful account of the expedition with an overview of Watkins’s life, Roberts searches for the key to the explorer’s prodigious resolve, ultimately finding the contrast between the London bon vivant and the daring leader as compellingly mysterious as did Watkins’s contemporaries.
VERDICT Placing Watkins and his team among the esteemed ranks of polar heroes like Shackleton and Scott, this is an essential read for enthusiasts of Arctic exploration and survival.
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