Antarctica: A Biography
David Day

Antarctica: A Biography

For centuries it was suspected that there must be an undiscovered continent in the southern hemisphere. But explorers failed to find one. On his second voyage to the Pacific, Captain James Cook sailed further south than any of his rivals but still failed to sight land. However, the icebergs that he encountered provided proof of the existence of land. Nevertheless, it was not until whaling crews ventured south from Cape Magellan in the early nineteenth century that the frozen continent was finally sighted and parts of its coast began to be claimed by nations that were intent on having it as their own. That rivalry intensified in the 1840s when British, American and French expeditions sailed south to chart further portions of the continent that had come to be known as Antarctica.

On and off for nearly two centuries, the competition to claim exclusive possession of parts of Antarctica has gripped the imagination of the world, whether it was the race to the South Pole by Scott and Amundsen or the attempts by American and Nazi German aviators to claim great swathes of the continent by simply dropping their nation’s flags upon it. Science was enlisted to buttress the rival claims as nations developed new ways of asserting territorial claims over land that was too forbidding to occupy. More recently, with the continent remaining without recognized owners, there have been calls to make it the common property of the world.

This book will draw upon libraries and archives from around the world, from Britain to Argentina and Norway to New Zealand, to provide the first, large-scale history of Antarctica. On one level, it is the story of explorers battling the elements in the most hostile place on earth as they strive for personal triumph, commercial gain and national glory. On another level, it is the story of nations seeking to incorporate the Antarctic into their national narratives and to claim its frozen wastes as their own. The book will blend these stories into a groundbreaking history of human interaction with the last continent on earth.

Book Details:

  • Author: David Day
  • On Submission
  • Rights Sold
    • Australia: Random House
    • US: Oxford University Press
    • UK: OUP
    • China: Commercial Press

David Day

David Day’s big break came when he sold the film rights to a seminar paper while doing his Ph.D. at Cambridge. That led to the highly acclaimed, Menzies and Churchill at War (1986), which has seldom been out of print. Two more books on the Second World War were published soon after and have been re-published by HarperCollins as The Politics of War (2003).In 1996, David published a groundbreaking history of Australia, Claiming a Continent, which developed the notion of Australia as a supplanting society. Published by HarperCollins, the book won the Non-Fiction Prize at the Adelaide Fes...
More about David Day

Book Reviews

  • "...a remarkable work of scholarship and sustained analysis."
    The Weekend Australian
  • "...this scholarly but readable volume surveys the geopolitical history of Antarctica from the dawn of the Age of Reason to the present day... Day's book explains 'the bigger picture ... that probably can't be found in any book yet written. "
    Newcastle Herald
  • "  David Day's Antarctica: A biography (Knof, $45) is an eye-opening history of the race amongst nations to be the first to plant their flag in the frozen land. It is a big book, covering Captain James Cook's attempts to find the 'Great South Land' in the 1770s to the present and all the explorers and adventurers in between."
    Brisbane's Courier Mail
  • "  For those who enjoy sweeping historical biographies, David Day's Antarctica is a polar reference piece par excellence. "
    Cairns Post
  • "...a clear and intriguing history of flag-raising."
    Literary Review
  • "This is an intoxicating book by Australia’s greatest historian."
    Peter FitzSimons
  • "Antarctica is the first comprehensive his­tory of the continent, spanning the centuries since Cook’s voyage...  Day has done a remarkable job of collating information from rich and varied international sources. He draws from original accounts, newspa­per articles, the recently released papers of US naval officer and polar explorer Rich­ard Byrd, and numerous national archives with their copious committee reports and memos, some recently declassified. "
    Nature
  • "...a well-researched, scholarly work that examines nearly 250 years of history with a deft pen and a dry wit."
    Country Life
  • "   In this meticulously researched book, the Australian historian David Day reminds us that there is considerably more to the story [of Antarctica] than ... the conquest of Roald Amundsen or the drama of Ernest Shackleton....Day’s informative book is a saga of the politicisation of Antarctica, notably from the moment in the late 1930s when the United States entered the territorial contest and the Soviet Union dusted off Bellingshausen’s 120-year-old charts to fashion its own claim to chunks of land...his thought-provoking and detailed work reminds us that the future of Antarctica remains even more fiercely disputed and uncertain than when Bellingshausen and Bransfield first saw the continent."
    Irish Times
  • "Behind the scenes, nations have long plotted to win sovereignty and control resources. And that is where David Day’s Antarctica: A biography takes us, into a two-faced world of public and covert intentions where personal and national rivalries abound.…thanks to Day, the intrigues and posturing that saturate the history of this distant land have now been exposed."
    Nature
  • "  Day weaves a masterly tale of expeditions and their leaders in this hugely detailed and well-researched tome. There are some absolute gems with new insights for even the most avid readers on the subject."
    Times Higher Educational Supplement
  • "  Day’s well-researched history covers all these stories and more. An intriguing addition to a centuries-long geopolitical adventure story."
    Kirkus
  • "Day's Antarctica is an impressive piece of work, an impartial and deeply researched account of the politics of polar annexation."
    Times Literary Supplement
  • "In his latest book, noted Australian historian David Day seeks to capture the spirit of Cook and Mawson and the deeds of subsequent explorers, which eventually turned into a race for Antarctic sovereignty. Unlike traditional histories of Antarctica, which focus almost exclusively upon exploration and individual explorers, Day blends that narrative with the increasing politicisation of Antarctica as European powers, then the Americans, and eventually Argentina and Chile jostled for territory."
    Sydney Morning Herald
  • "Solid as a block of Antarctic ice itself, but no less readable for it, his latest book draws on five years of meticulous research to tell the story of human endeavour in Antarctica, the last continent to be discovered. It paints a poignant biographical picture of the characters involved, the gruelling expeditions undertaken, and the rivalries between nations as they raced to chart the continent and claim possession of it."
    The Economist
  • "For those who, like me, are passionate about learning more about the history and politics that touched and affected Antarctica, you will love this meticulously researched book. "
    The Guardian
  • "  Revealing the fascinating story behind Earth’s southernmost continent, Day takes readers from Captain Cook in the 1770s through to the present day, highlighting the surprising links between Antarctica and the modern history of the world’s most powerful nations.... Day’s adept writing style weaves facts, dates and names with fascinating tales of international politics, heroic endeavours and personal scandals. It is these details and Day’s accessible approach to history that makes this book hard to put down. Working through the years chronologically from the 1770s to the present day, most chapters only focus on three to four years. At first this may seem as impenetrable as Antarctica itself, however Day’s narration guides the reader from one country’s Antarctic policy to the next, creating a intricate and absorbing tale.... Antarctica: A Biography is a fascinating read that is both captivating and educational, and through it David Day has created a unique perspective of viewing history: one which flips the globe around and looks from the bottom up."
    The Culture Trip
  • "Day's compelling account takes the reader beyond the triumphs and failures of various expeditions and narrow nationalist perspectives. This is world and transnational history on a grand scale based upon archives in the USA and Norway as well as Britain, Australia and New Zealand. It is as the dust jacket claims, "the first large-scale history of Antarctica"."
    Australian Historical Studies,