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Mountains of Madness A Scientist's Odyssey in Antarctica cover
  • ISBN: 9780309070775
  • ISBN10: 0309070775

Mountains of Madness a Scientist's Odyssey in Antarctica

by John A. Long

  • List Price: $24.95
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Natl Academy Pr
  • Publish date: 02/01/2001
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In December of 1988, and again in October of 1992, paleontologist John Long went fossil hunting in the coldest place on earth -- the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. As a scientist, he went seeking specimens of fossilized fish from the Devonian period, when fish were the dominant form of life on earth. Ultimately, the expedition fulfilled its scientific mission. They found new genuses and species of prehistoric creatures. But, as a human being, Long went seeking adventure -- and ended up changing his life forever. Through many dangerous, occasionally comical, but always genuinely moving experiences, his life was fundamentally altered.

With a poignancy that rings true, Long comes to understand the true value of existence.

No one goes to Antarctica without coming back a different person. A little part of Antarctica grows inside you and molds your character, for better or worse, from the first day you step foot on that frozen land. I never suspected that going to Antarctica would change my life in dramatic ways, but it certainly did... We went there with a mission to search for the fossil remains of Antarctica's earliest flourishing communities... Antarctica has had a profound effect on my life from then on.

This extraordinary book is the first-person account of John Long's two unforgettable "summers" on the southern continent. Told in a highly accessible and entertaining style, Mountains of Madness is the account of his three-month long fossil hunt. As the story unfolds, we learn of both the highs of scientific discovery as well as the grueling yet essential routines that must be practiced every day just to stay alive in one of the harshest environments on our planet.Alternating with the author's wonder at the intense beauty of his surroundings are his immense frustration and boredom that stem from being completely at the mercy of the elements.

Throughout the course of the expedition, danger is never far off in this inhospitable land. Despite having been trained in the art of building snow caves and practiced in the skill of traversing glaciers, Long tells of two brushes with death in just one afternoon. The hair-raising escape from a deep crevasse is fraught with tension -- only to be followed by yet another encounter with sudden disaster when the crash of an avalanche buries Long deep in the snow.

Suddenly my foot stepped right through the ground, and the other foot gave way also. I felt the horrible sensation of falling, with nothing below me, and instinctively thrashed around to suddenly break my fall as my large pack wedged itself deep in the snow. My feet wiggled in mid-air over a bottomless chasm. I frantically writhed sideways, rolling over to the right, snow and ice in my face and hair. Icy breath panting furiously... a gaping dark blue hole with no visible bottom now existed where I had broken through from above...

Peppered with wonderful insights into just how people stay sane in such an insane place, this is both a fascinating account of the scientific and ecological importance of the Antarctic and a testament to the courageous and dedicated individuals that make such an exploration possible. The book documents the day to day trials of a real Antarctic sledging expedition, with colorful descriptions of the diverse prehistory of the continent as discoveries are actually made in the field. In addition to a wealth of scientificinformation about this icy continent, including the unearthing of new fossils, we come to see the human side to Antarctic science, and learn of the visceral after-effects that Antarctic expeditions can have on one's day-to-day life.

The book follows an unusual organization, drawing on haunting images from the classic 1931 horror tale by H.P. Lovecroft, At the Mountains of Madness. This eerie novella tells of an Antarctic fossil-hunting expedition that goes horribly wrong. As the scientists pass the evenings in their tents, they read aloud from passages of Lovecraft's book. With the wind by turns howling and dying back to spooky silence over the barren landscape that surrounds them, the men discover remarkable parallels to the discoveries and events of their own expedition.

Mountains of Madness is a moving saga of science, exploration, and human endurance. It is the story of how real science is practiced in a unique and demanding setting. Rather than a presentation of research findings, this book recounts what life is like in the field, where scientists come close to sacrificing their very lives for the sake of advancing human knowledge. Like the polar explorers from the early 1900s in whose footsteps they follow, this team of scientists faces the unknown and the unpredictable in the pure and simple quest for knowledge.

Mountains of Madness will be a must-read for every armchair adventurer, for all the devotees of Antarctic memoirs, and for the field scientists who will respond with empathy to this unique book.

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