It is said to be one of our oldest stories: a young man goes to a far-off land in search of a mythical and wondrous beast. For years, Gavin Francis yearned to go to the remotest place on our planet, to see one of the strangest beasts alive. This is how he came to spend fourteen months living alongside emperor penguins as the base-camp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, in fact, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.
This prospect of silence and solitude also drew him south: to a place with no distractions and very little human history, but one that offered a rare opportunity to explore the world of the emperor penguin. Masters of endurance, they flourish in this coldest and most inhospitable region on earth, and Gavin wondered whether he could learn something from them. Following the penguins throughout the year – from a summer of perpetual sunshine to three and a half months of winter darkness – we are guided through the strange moods and manners of Antarctic living. Amid the ice and austerity, where the legends of Scott and Shackleton still loom large, Gavin Francis explores the hardship of living at 50 degrees below zero, and the unexpected comfort that the penguin community bring. Empire Antarctica is the story of one man and his obsession with a continent, mapping not only a place but landscapes of the mind. Combining an evocative and enchanting narrative with a sublime sensitivity to the natural world, this is travel writing at its very best.
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Gavin Francis was born in 1975 and brought up in Fife, Scotland. After qualifying from medical school in Edinburgh he spent ten years travelling, visiting all seven continents. He has worked in Africa and India, made several trips to the Arctic, and crossed Eurasia and Australasia by motorcycle. His first book, True North, was published in 2008. He has also published Adventures in Human Being. He has lectured at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the Edinburgh Book Festival, and is a regular speaker at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He lives in Edinburgh.