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Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarcticaby Nicholas Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
Big Dead Place examines daily life in Antarctica, with a look at historical overviews of early Antarctic explorers, the local history of the region's two largest U.S. bases, and the internal culture of the U.S. Antarctic Program. Working for that program, self-proclaimed "smirking lackey" Nicholas Johnson quickly finds a world far from his preconceived vision of a pristine frontier and a noble scientific mission. His naiveté turns to lurid astonishment at the milieu of interdepartmental squabbling, posturing, and politicking. The book moves with mordant style into the madness of life in this outpost, with insider accounts of violent parties at the South Pole, a crazed manager who tries to fill his boots with antifreeze, the enraged administrator who confiscated an unauthorized shower curtain, sex on the altar in the Chapel of the Snows, a ghost that has haunted the food freezer for years, and a scientist terrified of the region's perpetual darkness.
"When Johnson went to work for the U.S. Antarctic Program (devoted to scientific research and education in support of the national interest in the Antarctic), he figured he'd find adventure, beauty, penguins and lofty-minded scientists. Instead, he found boredom, alcohol and bureaucracy. As a dishwasher and garbage man at McMurdo Station, Johnson quickly shed his illusions about Antarctica. Since he and his co-workers seldom ventured beyond the station's grim, functional buildings, they spent most of their time finding ways to entertain themselves, drinking beer, bowling and making home movies. The dormlike atmosphere, complete with sexual hijinks and obscene costume parties, sometimes made life there feel like 'a cheap knock-off of some original meaty experience.' What dangers there were existed mostly in the psychological realm; most people who were there through the winter developed the 'Antarctica stare,' an unnerving tendency to forget what they were saying mid-sentence and gaze dumbly at the station walls. And if the cold and isolation didn't drive one crazy, the petty hatreds and mindless red tape might. Though occasionally rambling and uneven, this memoir offers an insider's look at a place that few people know anything about and fewer still have ever seen. Photos. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Big Dead Place examines daily life in Antarctica, with a look at early explorers, the local history of the region's two largest U.S. bases, and the internal culture of the U.S. Antarctic Program. Working for that program, self-proclaimed "smirking lackey" Nicholas Johnson quickly finds a world far from his preconceived vision of a pristine frontier and a noble scientific mission. Photos, some in color. Illustrations & maps.
What really goes on in Antarctica?
Johnson’s savagely funny [book] is a grunt’s-eye view of fear and loathing, arrogance and insanity in a dysfunctional, dystopian closed community. It’s like M*A*S*H on ice, a bleak, black comedy.”—The Times of London
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History and Social Science » Arctic and Antarctic » General