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Polar Crusader
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Military, History & Adventure
Publication Date
04 April 2007
Paperback (also available as an eBook)
In Stock
Birlinn Limited
Age Range
20th Century

Polar Crusader

A Life of Sir James Wordie
by Michael Smith - Find out more about the author


eBook also available from the iBookstore

’Truly a remarkable life and a story well told’ – The Polar Record, CUP

‘an engaging portrait of exploration’s most unsung hero’ TLS

‘to read of James Wordie’s remarkable life is to go right to the heart of British polar exploration’ Geographical

Born in Glasgow in 1889, Sir James Mann Wordie was one of the great figures in the history of polar exploration. Although resolute and ambitious (perhaps even scheming), he shunned publicity and popular fame. Wordie’s career as both explorer and academic geologist opened with his participation in Shackleton’s epic Endurance expedition of 1914­-16, where he proved one of the most resilient of those stranded in appalling conditions on Elephant Island. He continued to lead arduous expeditions to the Arctic well into his forties, while building his reputation as an academic and mentor to new generations of explorers and mountaineers. During and after the Second World War he was instrumental in safeguarding British strategic interests in the Antarctic territories, and later rose to be President of the Royal Geographical Society and Master of St John’s College, Cambridge. He died in 1962.

This is the first full biography of Wordie to be written, and it makes use of a wide variety of official sources, of the personal recollections of family, friends and colleagues, and of previously unpublished papers and diaries, most notably those of Wordie himself, including the log he kept of the Endurance expedition. It is illustrated throughout with photographs taken on Wordie’s numerous expeditions, many of them previously unpublished.

Michael Smith’s book captures all the drama of an extraordinary life lived at the edge and will go a long way in establishing James Wordie in his rightful place in the pantheon of great British explorers.

Michael Smith was a political and business journalist for over thirty years with the Guardian, the Observer and the Evening Standard, and has contributed to numerous TV and radio documentaries. He has written two other books on polar exploration: An Unsung Hero, a biography of the Irish explorer Tom Crean (2001) which has sold over 50,000 copies in hardback and paperback editions, and I Am Just Going Outside, a biography of Captain Lawrence Oates (2002). He lives in London.