Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

Erebus: The Story of a Ship - Michael Palin
Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

HMS Erebus is the British bomb ship that, alongside sister ship HMS Terror, took James Clark Ross and his crew on their three Antarctic Expeditions between 1839-1843, reaching further south than any other ship before, and the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in search of the North West Passage, which set sail for Greenland and the Arctic in 1845, never to be seen again.

The second part is inevitably more gripping than the first.

The wreck of the Erebus was found in 2014, that of Terror in 2016, and Michael Palin’s account starts with the discovery of the Erebus in  the shallow waters of Wilmot and Crampton Bay. Erebus is a leading character in this book alongside the Navy men, Establishment politicians and Empire men who led the scientific and commercial explorations, and expropriations, during the 19th Century.

(Although personally I could have done with out the regular refrain of “When I visited XYZ…”)

Author’s page: Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago – Patrick Barkham

Islander - Patrick Barkham
Islander – Patrick Barkham

From emancipated Eigg to the tidal mudflats of Essex, Patrick Barkham visits 10 (?) different islands off the shores of the British mainland, exploring the history, geography, people, wildlife and present day culture on each.

In tandem, snippets of the life and islands of novelist Compton Mackenzie.

A great read.

Publisher page: Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago – Patrick Barkham

 

The Debatable Land – Graham Robb

The Debatable Land - Graham Robb
The Debatable Land – Graham Robb

Patchy.

I enjoyed the earlier chapters although the foreshadowing of The Big Reveal became a bit repetitive and the coverage of events in the Debatable Land under the Tudors and early Stewarts, as the borders between England and Scotland came more into focus, felt rather drawn out. The chapters on the Scottish Referendum and Brexit felt like articles tacked on at the end.

As for the big reveal? Well, I would have likes more insight into the competing theories as to the identity of legendary King Arthur, and the key maps that underlying the place name and Ptolemaic Map analysis needed to be larger scale and would have been better located in the relevant chapters – true for all the maps at the back of the paperback.

Publisher page: The Debatable Land – Graham Robb

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature - Andrea Wulf
The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

Who’s Humboldt?

The Invention of Nature is Andrea Wulf’s biography of Prussian scientist-naturalist-ecologist-explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, whose travels in the Americas gave us Humboldt’s Penguin, amongst many, many other things, and whose renown resulted in place names ranging from Mare Humboldtianum on the moon to Humboldt University in Berlin. Most importantly, via the publications,  lectures and correspondence that occupied Humboldt for the majority of his long life, he developed the concept that has been called Humboldtian science – a holistic view of science and nature, climate, the environment and ecology, and by extension encompassing art and society.

During his lifetime he engaged with politicians, revolutionaries, scientists and artists – Thomas Jefferson, Simón Bolívar, Charles Lyell, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – and his writings continued to influence key scientific, cultural and artistic developments of the 19th and 20th century; Darwin, Thoreau and John Muir were all fans, as were George Perkins Marsh and Ernst Haeckel who I’d not heard of before reading this book.

And you’ve never heard of him.

Not directly related to Humboldt, a quotation that I liked appears at page 324

‘Solitude,’ Emerson warned him [Muir], ‘is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife,’

Author page: The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt – The Lost Hero of Science