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.)
"No one has done more to change the way we understand Antarctica. Nick was unflinching in his critique of bureaucracy and authority in the United States Antarctic Program, but mainly he sought to create a dialogue within and about Antarctica that cut through cliche and hypocrisy in order to describe things as they really are, in all their glory and strangeness." -Progressive Review
"It took a full century and the building of centrally heated infrastructure for the island at the bottom of the world to produce something like a minor classic. Its author was a young American writer and itinerant contract worker named Nicholas Johnson, whose memoir Big Dead Place upon publication superseded a centurys worth of self-serving ice-beard memoirs and press-junket hackery." - Alternet
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.
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
What really goes on in Antarctica?