To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration

To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration

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From Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Edward J. Larson comes an entwined narrative of the most adventurous year of all time, when three expeditions simultaneously raced to the top, bottom, and heights of the world. As 1909 dawned, the greatest jewels of exploration lay unclaimed: the North and South Poles and the so-called Third Pole, “the Pole of Altitude,” located in the unexplored heights of the Himalayas. Before the calendar turned, three expeditions had faced death, mutiny, and the harshest conditions on the planet to raise flags at the farthest edges of the earth.

In the course of one extraordinary year, Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson were hailed worldwide as the discoverers of the North Pole; Britain’s Ernest Shackleton had set a new geographic farthest-south record, while his expedition mate Australian Douglas Mawson had reached the south magnetic pole; and at the roof of the world, Italy’s Duke of the Abruzzi had attained an altitude record that would stand for a generation, the result of the first major mountaineering expedition to the Himalayas’ eastern Karakoram, where the daring aristocrat attempted K2 and established the standard route up the most notorious mountain on the planet.

Drawing on extensive archival and on-the-ground research to the Arctic, Antarctic, and Himalaya, Edward J. Larson illuminates one of the great overlooked tales of exploration, revealing the astonishing human achievement at the heart of these journeys.

352 pages 


Just one of our book titles on Time, Navigation and Exploration at the National Maritime Museum. 


“An engaging tale of derring-do and survival virtuosity. ... Larson is a talented storyteller. ... He does full justice to his three protagonists’ remarkable bravery, resourcefulness, accomplishments—and flaws. ... Suspenseful. ... Moving. ... Fascinating.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Exciting. ... An adrenaline-fueled look at one of the wildest times in exploration.” (Outside, “Best New Books”)

“[A] detailed account. ... Engaging. ... A welcome perspective.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Larson recounts three bold expeditions in 1909. ... How badass were these guys? Peary loses eight toes to frostbite but continues undeterred. ... Despite the hardships, it’s hard not to envy living in a time when parts of the world remained unexplored.” (Men’s Journal (”8 Great New Books to Snag Right Now”))

“Over 100 years ago, in 1909, the North Pole, South Pole, and the highest mountain peaks in the world all remained unclaimed by adventurers, and a generation of explorers were all reaching for those prizes. ... Larson takes us along on three missions, one to each pinnacle of the world.” (Popular Science (one of “Five Books You Should Read This Month”))

“Shine[s] a light on the adventures of explorers of old. ... Larson writes in an engaging and fast-moving manner in reacquainting us with those heroes of yesterday who’ve slipped into the historical shadows.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A masterfully written story of incredible adventures against insurmountable odds.” (JIM WHITTAKER, the first American to summit Mt. Everest, former president/CEO of REI, and author of A Life on the Edge)

“Larson delivers riveting tales of stalwart explorers risking their lives for discovery in some of the world’s harshest areas. Their successes and even their failures made them heroes. A fascinating look at the adventures of remarkably resilient men, so well-related as to make you feel the chill.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A fine psychological study, a story of bravery and obsession and men who pushed themselves to the edge of sanity. … Larson captures the excitement and danger that were the defining characteristics of this age of exploration.” (Booklist)

“Recommended for those who wish to relive a time when the globe still had empty spaces and the men able to fill in those blank areas were rewarded by the world’s adulation.” (Lincoln Journal Star)

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