BOOK REVIEW-Antarctica: An Encyclopedia from Abbott Ice Shelf to Zooplankton
Edited by Mary Trewby.
David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, 2002. pp 208.
ISBN 1-86953-453-0, RRP$59.95
Although published by David Bateman this encyclopedia on Antarctica was produced by Natural History New Zealand.
It includes information on fourteen major topics and contains 250 photographs. Topics are diverse, from the laws and politics that surround Antarctica to all aspects of its natural environment, including its geology, glaciers and life on land, ice and in the ocean.
Modern issues such as tourism, transport and survival as well as its unique history are included. In addition to the over 1,000 entries there are six two-page specials on the Antarctic Treaty, Dry Valleys, Exploration, Icebergs, Penguins and the South Pole.
The structure of the book is very simple. After a Foreword from Gillian Wratt, the CEO of Antarctica New Zealand at that time, it begins with two double page maps; one on physical aspects of Antarctica and another on the Political. It then goes straight into 200 pages of the A to Z of Antarctica before finishing off with a selected Bibliography and Index. Entries are arranged alphabetically, although not necessarily as you might expect to find them.
For example, Icebergs come after Ice Tongue (having two words) rather than Ice Age as I might have anticipated. Entries are cross referenced with the cross references in capitals. However, they do not always work both ways so that Black Icebergs (under B) give a reference to Icebergs but not the other way around.
Some of the entries are intriguing and I found myself delving into the book and reading entries that simply took my interest, for example the one on Fairy prion (look them up if you don't know what they are!) or the entry on World Park. The latter gives the history of an idea that has been mooted since 1972.
It was also interesting to read that all the first women in Antarctica went there in the company of their husbands (see Women)!
Of particular interest to myself were the entries on Pen glacial, Permafrost and Patterned Ground. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed; the first wasn't there, the second was not the more precise and widely accepted definition of permafrost (e.g. French, 1996, pS), and the third gave a very limited description of Patterned Ground.
However, these are topics peculiar to my interest and probably not of particular relevance to the more popular audience for whom the book is intended.
There are many stunning images in the book, both contemporary colour photographs as well as early black and white or sepia ones. This is one of the real strengths of the book, not only does it contain some of the more classic photographs relating to Antarctica (e.g. the Endurance being crushed by ice) but also some unusual ones.
I particularly liked the one of the springtail on page 179 and the protest over the French blasting to create a runway at Dumont d'Urville Base on page 149. There is even a rather younger version of our current Professor of Antarctic Studies at Gateway Antarctica in his previous life as a geologist on page 88! The two page 'specials' are a treat and liberally endowed with excellent images (see the one on Icebergs or Penguins).
Unfortunately there are some things that I don't like about the book. There are one or two unnecessary errors in the maps on the first two pages that I found particularly irritating. There was no legend to explain the symbols on the Ross Island inset on the "Antarctica: Physical Map" and Vanda appears as a current base on both the Physical map and the Political one, even though Vanda was dismantled in 1994 according to the entry on page 192. I would also liked to have seen an Introduction as well as the Foreword.
I found it rather disconcerting to go straight from the maps into the A to Z and then to the Bibliography! More serious though is the intended audience and how this modest (in terms of size and cost not content) attempt will be able to compete with some of the other encyclopedias being published.
For example, 'Antarctica: The Complete Story', published by Random House in 2001, has over 600 pages and many more images, diagrams and maps and cost me only
More recently Wiley & Sons published a 360 page 'Encyclopedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans on behalf of the Scott Polar Institute, with 1300 articles written by 28 international researchers. However, at a cost of £225 this is for the serious enthusiast!
What I do particularly like about this book and what I think is its unique selling point, is that it is homegrown;
Produced by New Zealanders interested in the Antarctic for New Zealanders interested in the Antarctic.
New Zealanders have a special relationship and interest in Antarctica and this will make a very useful gift for friends or an addition to your own Antarctic library.
Really a cross between a dictionary and a coffee table book it has the added advantage of being a reasonable price, and yet with some great images and explanations of things unique to Antarctica and the Ross Dependency.