Book: Jeff Maynard: Antarctica’s Lost Aviator (Pegasus Books, 2019)
Books about Antarctic exploration tend to focus on heroic, driven men seeking to test their mettle against the unforgiving forces of nature. Amundsen, Shackleton and in his own way even Scott were tough, strong individuals. In contrast, the main character of Antarctica’s Lost Aviator, Lincoln Ellsworth, was a wealthy dilettante, an indecisive glory-seeker who paid others to do the work and then took credit for it.
In modern terminology, he’d be called a failson.
Ellsworth was the son of a successful businessman and inherited such vast wealth that he had to tour across two continents just to visit all his castles and villas. He wanted to be famous as a great explorer and made many failed attempts both on the Arctic and the Antarctic before finally successfully crossing the continent by air.
Maynard’s book is entertaining, gripping and well-written. It’s particularly interesting if you have already read books about some of the more famous explorers. The tenor of the story changes completely when the person in charge is fundamentally incompetent, making Antarctic voyages feel suddenly much more perilous. You can imagine a Shackleton pulling through, but what about this guy and the poor fools he’s paid to do the work for him?