Book Review: After the Last Dog Died

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Ernest Shackleton has been in the news a lot lately in recent years, but Douglas Mawson's struggle across the frozen continent of Antarctica was more harrowing, according to the author of After the Last Dog Died, an excellent new book from National Geographic. That the author includes information based on interviews with Mawson's granddaughter only adds credence to the claim and the tale.

Douglas Mawson actually served with Shackleton on one of the famous man's early expeditions. Mawson found the frozen continent so appealing that he couldn't wait to go back. Go back he did, in 1911, after first meeting and getting engaged to a wonderful woman named Paquita Delprat. She originally tried to talk her fiance out of returning, but seeing the light of exploration in his eyes convinced her to support him in his endeavor. They agreed to meet again in a year and then get married. Three years later, Mawson returned, having survived a harrowing adventure and numerous brushes with death.

The book is filled with gripping details and vivid depictions of how difficult it was just to survive in Antarctica, one of the coldest and most windy places on the planet. Mawson's expedition arrived full of hope, however, and split up into groups to make multiple settlements. Their goal: scientific exploration.

They were to meet again at base camp on a certain date, there to return home by ship, in time to avoid the annual ice flows that would prevent such a homeward voyage if it were attempted any later in the year. (Antarctica's summer lasts only three months, December–February.)

Mawson's group didn't quite make it back in time, and that is where the book really picks up. With pictures and well chosen words, the author evokes the tremendous difficulties that Mawson and his men faced on what should have been a simple trip back to base camp. The title describes the situation that Mawson faced when his resources were at their lowest point. The struggle the man goes through just to walk and keep from crawling all the way back is retold in vivid and haunting detail. By looking at the pictures and reading the words, one can almost feel the harsh reality that Mawson faced.

This book probably falls into the category of "Forgotten People in History," telling as it does the epic adventure of a man who lived in the shadow of more famous men, Shackleton and Robert Scott. (Mawson served under the former and turned down an opportunity to serve under the latter.) As such, the book does an excellent job of telling a story that students of the period don't always read. The book is well written and, as with all things National Geographic, contains stunning photographs. Give it a try!

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