Below the Convergence

Below the Convergence : Voyages Towards Antarctica, 1699-1839

  • Paperback
By (author) Alan Gurney

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  • Paperback | 336 pages
  • 01 May 1998
  • TBS The Book Service Ltd
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • Ill.M.
  • 0712683305
  • 9780712683302

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Review text

In this comprehensive account - written with sufficient wit and historical asides to offset the tedium of names, dates, and geographic minutiae - yacht designer and photographer Gurney shows how the discovery of the icebound continent became one of the great goals of explorers beginning in the late 17th century. The history of Antarctic exploration begins not with Captain James Cook, whom many readers will at once recognize as the first to plunge south of the Antarctic Circle, but with haunting tales dating back to the Greeks, legends of a temperate, populated southern continent. It was not until the last year of the 17th century and the voyage of Edmond Halley that the idea of a fertile land presumed to lie between the Straits of Magellan and the Cape of Good Hope began to erode. Between 1773 and 1775, Cook's famous expedition led him south of the Antarctic convergence (the oceanic zone where the warm Atlantic meets the frigid high-latitude waters); circumnavigating the Antarctic icepack, he found no continent but did discover new lands, including the South Sandwich Islands. Other explorers were to make their marks in Antarctic exploration, but as the 18th century gave way to the 19th, it was the lure of easy fortune, not science, that increasingly drew expeditions to the rich Antarctic seas. It was, appropriately enough, the crew of a New Haven sealer that finally stepped ashore on Antarctica in 1820. Although Gurney's narrative tends to loop back on itself circuitously at times, it is unfailingly informative and surprising in its scope: One learns about such diverse matters as penguin life, the China fur trade, the experiences of Charles Darwin, and tsarist geopolitics. Beyond the harrowing adventures one would expect to read about in any narrative of Antarctic discovery, Gurney's articulate story is a welcome portrait of an age driven by great mysteries and simpler technologies than those of today. (Kirkus Reviews)

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