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Book Report: With winter months approaching, read about Antarctica's explorers

Two months from last Friday marks the 100th anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's historic arrival at the South Pole.

To commemorate the event, Knopf has published "South With the Sun," by Lynne Cox (Knopf, $25).

Cox, an accomplished open water swimmer and the author of "Swimming to Antarctica," describes reading about Amundsen when she was a 15-year-old and how he inspired her to lead a life of adventure, how she unwittingly set out in Amundsen's route, swimming in open waters off Antarctica and Greenland.

In her new book, Cox intertwines her own adventures swimming in near freezing waters with the adventures of Amundsen, the sort of man who exemplifies the term "adventurous." He began his career as an explorer at age 15, received encouragement from another Norwegian adventurer, Fritjof Nansen.

The book is chockfull of technical details that explain why Amundsen succeeded in his quest for the pole and his return from it where others, like Robert Falcon Scott, failed.

He was still alive when Admiral Robert Bird flew to the North Pole. At a dinner, Amundsen asked Byrd what he planned to do next.

"Fly to the South Pole," said Byrd, who was only joking.

Amundsen, who was enthusiastic about flight as the best way to get to Antarctica, took Byrd seriously and bombarded him with tips on how to succeed, what to wear (light, dry clothing), what to eat (seal meat, pemmican, chocolate and oatmeal crackers), how the most important elements of a an expedition were the sled dogs.

Perhaps most touching of the many tales of Amundsen's character came in 1928. Italian dirigible designer and pilot Umberto Nobile was sent by Mussolini to make a name for Italy by flying a dirigible to the South Pole.

Nobile ran into rough weather, his dirigible blew up with most of his crew. Only 10 crew members survived and they were injured.

Mussolini, being the jackal he was, ignored Nobile's plight and sent no rescue crew.

So Amundsen, who had earlier experienced difficulties with Nobile, helped organize a multi-national rescue effort and, at age 56, flew out to save Nobile and company. His plane crashed and that was the end of one of history's great explorers.

In the aftermath of his death, Admiral Byrd wrote a letter to Oslo's Aftenpost newspaper:

"Amundsen was my close friend. He was a lionhearted man and one of the greatest explorers of the ages. America shoulders this sorrow with Norway. He died nobly going to succor those in distress. In Amundsen's honor, I shall carry a Norwegian flag with us to the American continent.

"R. E. Byrd."


Get ready for Halloween with a fine new anthology published by Minneapolis's Nodin Press.

It's "Deadly Treats: Halloween Tales of Mystery, Magic, and Mayhem" ($15.95, paper), compiled and edited by Anne Frasier of St. Paul, author of 20 books of suspense, mystery and the paranormal.

Frasier has plucked writers from all over the country, well-known and unknown, for this fun anthology, in which a pickpocket begins to grow wings, in which a man wakes up to find his sons have turned him into a zombie, or when an eight-year-old vanishes at a Kids Playhouse, and his best friend must decide which dad to sacrifice to bring him back.

One of my favorites is "Girls from the North Country," by Theresa Weir (Frasier's real name), about a loner who retires to the north woods to live the life of a hermit. Turns out the loner actually works for a cloning company which orders her to bring up a clone that appears on her cabin doorstep.

He turns out to be a clone of the actor James Dean. She does so and the cloning company offers to repay her by cloning someone to be her cabin companion.

Does she pick George Clooney?

No. She picks herself.

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