Recommended reads from our polar passengers
Though books are no substitute for experiencing the polar regions in person, they can be a great companion when you do. We’ve reached out to our followers on social media, most of whom are former (or future) passengers, to find out what polar-related books they recommend. We were quite happy with the results, which we’ve summarized below in no particular order.
Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, but all find common ground in the wondrous polar or subpolar world. Whether you’re looking for a book to read before, during, or after your cruise to the Arctic or Antarctica, there’s certain to be something here for you.
Arctic Dreams (Barry Lopez, 1986)
We start this list with a heavy hitter. Lopez’s moving and informative account of his five years working as a biologist in the Canadian Arctic is superb. It was also widely praised, winning the National Book Award for Nonfiction, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and the Oregon Book Award, among other distinctions.
Lean Fall Stand (Jon McGregor, 2021)
After an Antarctic surveyor suffers a tragic accident in the field, he must learn to make sense of the event while contending with disabling injuries that leave him unable to communicate.
Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent (David McGonigal, 2008)
A comprehensive study of Antarctic history, natural science, conservation issues, and more, this reader-friendly and fully illustrated book was published in honor of the International Polar Year of 2007-08.
A Woman in the Polar Night (Christiane Ritter, 1938)
A classic of polar literature following the author’s year spent living in a remote Spitsbergen hut with her husband and fellow hunter.
The Journey, Not the Destination (Olly Sanders, 2021)
A British kayaker and mountaineer’s tales of small-scale expeditions, ascents, and other adventures take center stage in this book, highlighting the importance of breaking away from modernity.
South (Ernest Shackleton, 1919)
Told in the Boss’s own words, this book follows the incredible story of Shackleton’s second expedition to Antarctica, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 – 1917. Few other works provide such a firsthand account of one of the world’s most miraculous rescue stories.
The Uttermost Part of the Earth (Lucas Bridges, 1948)
Included in this list due to its association with our Antarctic embarkation area of Tierra del Fuego, this book follows the author’s life among the Yaghan people and his initiation into the Ona tribe.
Endurance (Alfred Lansing, 1959)
This title, written by a journalist and student of polar history, offers an outside perspective on the harrowing story of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. For true scholars of polar history, we recommend comparing it to South, mentioned above.
Farthest North (Fridtjof Nansen, 1897)
Another classic first-person account of a famous polar expedition, this book follows Nansen’s 15-month sled journey to the North Pole, which many believe marked the beginning of the modern age of exploration.
The Worst Journey in the World (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 1922)
Cherry-Gerrard was a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s legendary Terra Nova Expedition of 1910 – 1913, and this is his acclaimed account of the journey. Not only a tale of perseverance through suffering, it is also a fascinating read for enthusiasts of polar history who are familiar with more recent critiques of Scott’s decisions during this debated expedition.
La Lune est Blanche (François & Emmanuel Lepage, 2014)
While there does not seem to be an English translation for this work as yet, those who read French will enjoy this story of brothers François and Emmanuel Lepage taking a surprise-filled scientific mission to the French Antarctic base, Dumont d’Urville.
North Water (Ian McGuire, 2016)
When a disgraced army surgeon, scheming captain, and murderous harpooner occupy the same ship on a whale hunting voyage to northern Baffin Bay, disaster is only the beginning. As a follow-up, don’t forget to check out the acclaimed BBC adaption of this book.
Scott and Amundsen: Last Place on Earth (Roland Huntford, 1979)
A gripping dual biography of Scott and Roald Amundsen, this dense but exciting book also examines the nationalistic fervor of the South Pole race, making for a read that will delight both polar newcomers and scholars.
Other polar book and film recommendations
This isn’t the first time we have written about suggestions for great polar-themed media. If you’re interested in a few more recommendations, see our blog on books and movies related to Antarctica as well as our brief list of books about Antarctic history.
Send us your own suggestions!
No reading list should remain static, so we hope to update this one with more of your recommendations. We can attest that there’s no better way to fire the imagination for your upcoming Arctic or Antarctic voyage than a great book set in the polar regions.