Alone on the Ice by David Roberts

Rate: 3/5

Medium: Audiobook


It is no secret that I have a penchant for a griping survival story. In the past couple of years I’ve read, and thoroughly enjoyed The Lost City of Z, Lost in Shangri-La, The River of Doubt, Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, In the Kingdom of Ice, Lost City of the Monkey God, and Frozen in Time. Intrigued by this tale of Antarctica survival, I decided to give Alone on the Ice a try, especially as Roberts touts it is the “Greatest survival story in the history of exploration.” With that kind of praise, how can my curiosity not be piqued, especially considering some of the other wild tales I’ve read. Roberts starts off the story right away when the plight of Mawson and his two other explorers is the direst, before he backtracks to the beginning of the story. This is a personal pet peeve of mine as it spoils the climax prior to laying the groundwork for any of these key characters. Regardless, Roberts did a good job detailing the politics that surrounded arctic exploration, although I think he glossed over the tedious yet crucial fundraising aspect. I still want to know if everyone got paid for the trip, especially the people that had to stay an extra year. I’m not sure I would have marketed this book as a survival story as the actual death defying events didn’t take place until there were only four hours left in the audiobook. This was more accurately a comprehensive, and detailed account of Mawson’s exploration trip that for the most part went smoothly until the end. Alone of the Ice was very informative and Roberts did an excellent job recreating what life must have been like at one of these remote exploration excursions. It struck me over and over again how isolated these men were and how technology has changed life asa a whole. First off, the men are dropped off on Antarctica in two approximate locations, with one ship containing the only humans in the whole world who are aware of the exact camp sites. If that ship is lost on the way back to civilization then the chances are slim that a rescue ship could find the stranded explorers. Further exasperating the loneliness and isolation within the two camps, groups of three go out on their own in various directions to explore. Again, while they are given approximate directions, their exact path is only beknownst to themselves. I was surprised to find myself feeling really uncomfortable at that level of unconnectedness, especially in a local as inhospitable as Antarctica. The survival story itself is mindboggling as Mawson defies all of the odds to make what seems an insurmountable journey back to the main base. Overall, I learned a lot while reading Alone on the Ice, however with the survival story only taking a minimal fraction of the word count, it should be marketed more as exploration tale.



  1. I recently read this book also. And share some of you thoughts … there are some amazing things explorers did back that boggle the mind. I also agree with your main point … the back story, while necessary, went on too long. I kept turning the page and asking “are we getting back to it yet”?

    Liked by 1 person

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