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Nonfiction in Brief

May 22, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

ICEBOUND IN ANTARCTICA by David Lewis and Mimi George ( W. W. Norton: $19.95)

Captain James Cook's 1772 voyage deep into "ice-infested seas" at the bottom of the Earth seems as distant as myth now that international bases in the Antarctic can be reached easily by aircraft. A few eccentric adventurers scattered around the globe have kept the tradition of the great maritime explorers alive, however. Like the early explorations, this trip delivered less than it promised in terms of scientific advances: Mimi George's brief report on group dynamics in alien environments, for instance, says little that is new (e.g.--"expeditioners should exhibit resourcefulness"). "Icebound in Antarctica" is compelling, however, as a poetic account of the wonder felt when living in an otherworldly environment. "At local noon," Lewis writes, "no more than the sun's upper rim peeped above the frozen sea. Bringing little warmth, it washed the fast ice with red and gold and magically transformed the deep purple ice cliffs into a rose pink."

These romantic moments were rare for David Lewis' crew. While many texts of polar exploring describe a brawny struggle between heroic man and hostile nature, Lewis, a veteran explorer in his sixties who wrote most of this text, offers an unusually candid account of his largely unsuccessful struggle to control bickering between the six members of his expedition (one particularly combative member had to be airlifted out before the group returned to Australia). At times, even stories of hackneyed heroism seem preferable to the petty details of the quarreling recounted here (Lewis evidently has some scores to settle in these pages). But at other moments Lewis' writing comes alive with the youthful exuberance of a man surrounded by his passions--the ocean and Mimi George, an anthropologist and Lewis' lover.

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