Picks and Pans Review: South Light: a Journey to the Last Continent

updated 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Michael Parfit

On assignment for Smithsonian magazine, Parfit spent a full summer season (November to April) in Antarctica. He was so captivated by the starkly beautiful land and the quirky, intense scientists who work there that the magazine piece turned into this 300-page book which makes his fascination with the continent understandable. Using language that is a curious blend of poetry and science—metaphors alternating with map readings—Parfit tells of his adventures accompanying the polar scientists on their field work, braving subzero temperatures to learn about wind erosion, fish survival techniques and seal behavior. He builds an igloo and sleeps in it; he goes snorkeling among icebergs. All this is powerfully described: You can almost see the terrifying-airplane approach to Antarctica in a blinding whiteout, feel the bone-chilling cold of a polar skinny dip, hear the strange cries of elephant seals that "sounded like a distant group of motorcyclists trying without success to start enormous engines." Occasionally the descriptions of landscape (mostly snow and ice after all) go on too long. A few photographs also would be welcome. But South Light is a compelling read, surefire enjoyment for armchair explorers everywhere. (Macmillan, $17.95)

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