• Alone on the Ice

  • The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration
  • By: David Roberts
  • Narrated by: Matthew Brenher
  • Length: 11 hrs and 39 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (983 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

His two companions were dead, his food and supplies had vanished in a crevasse, and Douglas Mawson was still 100 miles from camp.

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.

Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”

This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders.

©2013 David Roberts (P)2013 Blackstone

Critic Reviews

"Painting a realistic portrait of Aussie explorer Douglas Mawson and his arduous trek through some of the most treacherous icy Antarctic terrain, Roberts gives the reader a very close look at the huge risks and preparations of the nearly impossible feat…Harrowing, exciting and brutally real, Roberts provides a chilling backstory to polar explorer Mawson’s bold solitary survival tale." (Publishers Weekly)

"Mountaineer and prolific author Roberts returns with a vivid history of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and his 1912 exploration of Antarctica…. Roberts creates a full portrait of Mawson and does justice to what famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary would later call 'the greatest survival story in the history of exploration.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

"Douglas Mawson is not as well-known as Amundsen, Scott, or Shackleton, but as this intense and thrilling epic shows, he deserves a place on the pedestal next to these other great explorers of the Antarctic…. This fast-moving account earns for Mawson and his team a well-deserved place of honor in the so-called heroic age of Antarctic exploration." (Booklist)

What listeners say about Alone on the Ice

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Title is misleading …

We have all heard about Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen and their heroic journeys and sacrifices during the golden age of Antarctic exploration. But who has really heard of Douglas Mawson? I certainly did not know of this man’s escapades during the early part of the 20th century until I heard this book recently. It is a painstakingly researched, well written story of Mawson’s adventures trying to explore the unexplored regions of Antartica. The Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AED) was a remarkable scientific foray into the hellishly cold and windy regions of the south pole. Many remarkable characters make up the expeditionary party and crew of the steamer Aurora as they journey towards packed ice fields, stormy seas and the hurricane gusts of Commonwealth Bay. Many early chapters of the book is devoted to Mawson’s earlier life as an explorer and his ambitions to create the AED. Individual party members are also studied in detail and described. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Frank Hurley, the expedition photographer. The actual harrowing story of how Mawson survives the perilous journey on the ice alone for 30 days after his two compatriots die is remarkable but only plays a smaller part of this book. That is the reason I think the book was mistitled. Nevertheless, the story is an amazing piece of history that needed to be told for future generations.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Historic Death-defying Antarctic Expedition

Australian Douglas Mawson set out on a journey in 1912 to explore the Antarctic, with a goal of scientific observations and specimen gathering. It was a year long undertaking with three other members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz. Both of these men died during the expedition, one falling into a crevasse, and the other succumbed to spoiled meat. Mawson continues on alone and encounters extreme situations as he tries to find his way back to camp.

The story is comprised from journals kept by Mawson and the two other men from that perilous journey. It is definitely a raw, chilling account of the hardships they went through. Their supplies were insufficient, their clothing not warm enough, and the food scarce. As they trekked through the ice and blistering winds, most of their dogs were lost as they became too weak or sick to continue. The animals definitely did not fare well from the very beginning-and met with unpleasant ends- as a warning to tender-hearted readers.

Overal it is a good book for those who enjoy this kind of historical adventure.

So why did I only give it three stars? I didn't care for the narration, as it was too much the same type of monotone throughout. Also, the book was confusing at times, as it jumped from one event to another without enough of a break in narration or explanation about what was going on. I had to rewind several times just to clarify the content.

I could see myself enjoying this story much better in book form.

29 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Emotionless and Repetitive

I generally like true adventure tales and this one was on an exploration of Antarctica that was unknown to me.

However, the narration and delivery was devoid of almost all emotion. I contrast it to the story and narration of 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer. In that book, you could understand and empathize with the Everest quest and sense the extreme dangers involved.

Here, the story is told in an almost matter of fact, police report style. " Mawson fell down a crevass....he climbed out on his second attempt." Yawn.

Another issue was, and this is not the narrator's fault, that some information was repeated at times. I wondered if this book was written by a 'team' and several chapters made references to the same events or technical information.

If this is truly the 'Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration', it surely was delivered in dead-pan as I almost missed the climatic parts.

All in all, I am glad to have learned about Mawson and his experiences in Antarctica and the challenges, but they were delivered with such a lack of emotion that as another reviewer said, it probably would have been a better read.

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great Story

If you could sum up Alone on the Ice in three words, what would they be?

A great adventure that I'd never heard of before, Mawson and the AAE was a completely new story.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Mawson, he never gave up

What does Matthew Brenher bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Great story teller.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I did to the hardships they had to endure, as an outdoors person I've said to myself "is this worth it".

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Inspiring story, man against mother nature

If you could sum up Alone on the Ice in three words, what would they be?

Incredible human spirit

What did you like best about this story?

Detailed descriptions of life a century past, men performing feats that we would struggle to accomplish with current technology, and excelling at it.

What about Matthew Brenher’s performance did you like?

Very appropriate accent for the story.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, very interesting listen.

Any additional comments?

Makes me want to learn more of Shackleton, Scott and Amundson

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Put Another Log on the Fire

As far as books on exploration and historic expeditions, this is about as good as it gets--written by an award winning author familiar with mountaineering, exploration, etc., using the scientific journals, letters, and diaries of members of the 1911 Australian Antarctic Exploration (AAE)--particularly Australian heroes Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz. Roberts article about this historic expedition in the January edition of National Geographic piqued my interest, and the book expanded the fascinating article.

The explorers set out on a 600 mi. round trip journey across the unexplored frozen land, unprepared for the icy gales over 120 mph, week long blizzards, and perilous crevasses--hidden under *ice bridges* that gave no sign of the deep chasm beneath until the ice had cracked and swallowed the victims. Of the original 27 men and 36 dogs--only Mawson survives to meet the rescue ship, covering the last 100 miles by himself. Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mt. Everest fame, referred to Mawson's final lone push to the base camp (I will let you read about the terrifying incidents yourself) as, "the greatest survival story in the history of exploration."

Roberts did fastidious research but doesn't add flourish to the journals, keeping the story as accurate and real as possible. I thought the style was captivating and kept the events immediate--the desperation and fear felt threatening, the starvation was painful. The men write about the thin canvas tents in the relentless blizzards, layers of clothing frozen to them while they slept in their sleeping bags, the maddening loneliness and quiet, peeling off layers of frozen dead skin, the paralyzing fear that each step might crack open a bottomless icy cavern--it truly is chilling. Maybe I'm less fussy than other listeners, but I felt the narrator did a wonderful job balancing the sciene with the humanity.

I'm an animal lover and feel like my dog is people...so the fact that man's best friend became man's best meal bothered me immensely--just a little personal aside. (And wasn't it enough that they ate masses of the penguins and their eggs?..did they have to entertain themselves by antagonizing them first?!) It's hard to hear about in such expressive detail...*journalized for science* the taste of boiled Husky brain...(and the NG magazine had pre-expedition photos of the poor canines--gulp). Because of the scientific nature of the expedition, this is different from, say... Into Thin Air... and the type of adventure book that is more about a personal conquest. Know that there is a lot of detail and history of previous explorers. At times, the story jumps from one group's story to a previous group, and was a little challenging to follow. The epilogue is fantastic, detailing the impact of the expedition as well as the fate of Mawson. Sitting by my fireplace, I lookled out the window and thought the snowy-20 degree day didn't look so bad.

30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great tale but ...

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

A narrator reading about geography should realise that latitude and longitude are measured in degrees and minutes - not degrees and feet. This and a few other strange pronunciations introduce a jarring note into an otherwise well read book.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Thrilling Adventure

Would you listen to Alone on the Ice again? Why?

Not sure - I don't usually listen to a book again.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Alone on the Ice?

When you realize what a dire situation Mawson and Mertz are in with most of their food and tent gone and still hundreds of miles from base.

What does Matthew Brenher bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Great English accent - very suitable for the material.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No - too long for that, although, due to the intense nature of the experience, whenever I stopped listening, I felt disoriented for an hour or so realizing that I have all the food I want and am not freezing to death!

Any additional comments?

I disagree with the other reviewers that the performance was emotionless or monotonous. I thought it perfectly suited the material. I had just finished "Adrift", another survival story of 76 days alone at sea in an inflatable raft, so this was an interesting counterpoint. This makes me want to learn more about the Heroic Age of antarctic exploration.

One minor thing - I also noticed the mistake another reviewer noted about the narrator saying "feet" instead of "minutes" for geographical coordinates. Someone probably should have caught that and corrected it, but it's fine once you get used to it.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

This book could have been great

This book was put together terribly. Reader was waaaaay to slow. Should have been great.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Meh

As with many books like this it is way too long, and full of filler content.

1 person found this helpful

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  • James Tobiasen
  • 07-31-18

Astonishing Endurance

An amazing true story of human bravery, made all the more astonishing due to the relatively primitive equipment that the explorers were using. The book is read in a listenable and articulate manner for the most part, though there are a few jarring ticks which are, in all honesty quite shocking coming from a professional: the habit of reading dates as, for example, “May one” rather than “May the first”, the repeated mis-reading of certain words e.g. “magnanimous” read as magnaMiNous” (it isn’t the only example) - although the most jarring problem (the date format) may have been a production or editorial decision rather than the actors choice. A real shame as it partially spoils what would otherwise be a wonderful audio book.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • eriK koski
  • 09-01-20

Great stories of survival

This bookcwas well-detailed in explaining the struggles and battles the early arctic explores had to endure.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • birdie
  • 11-23-14

Don't bother!

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The material in this book merely rehashes Mawson's well written autobiography, The Heart of the Blizzard. some of the comments about other antarctic explorers repeat Roland Huntsford's biased viewpoints as though they were gospel. the narration is extremely tedious and the pronounciation of many words is inaccurate and very annoying. If the story is new to you you may enjoy the content, but the narrator would need to be much more inspiring to make it worth the effort.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Read Mawson's original!

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Matthew Brenher?

not sure.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

irritation.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • 2teirah
  • 04-05-22

Exceptional

Good narration, terrific story. Mawson's lone feat will likely never be equalled and his group leadership throughout sustained hardship is admirable.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • David
  • 04-02-22

Good but very ‘samey’

By ‘samey’ I mean page after page about trudging across the Antarctic in atrocious conditions, falling into crevasse after crevasse and running low on food then doing it again and again. No doubt an amazing story but I did need to regularly skip 30 seconds ahead to reach the end more quickly.
The final chapter or two and the epilogue were very interesting.
The best in the genre, and I’ve read and listened to quite a few now, is Alfred Lansing’s ‘Endurance’ which feels like three or four different exploration stories of survival in one expedition/ book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • nicolette king
  • 03-27-22

Gripping

Could barely believe the heroism and camaraderie of these men whose names i had never heard before. Well
constructed story tho there was some repetition but this could have been editing. I remain impressed by the courage and determination and mental stamina of the explorers in the book. The narrator was fine but mispronounced some words like brusque and McLean among others.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-03-22

Amazing story about an overlooked hero

This tells the compelling story of a South Polar expedition leader, Douglas Mawson, I had not previously heard of. It was well read and certainly deserved telling. I enjoyed it although in my view it could have been a good bit shorter while maintaining its impact. In fairness the circumstances and nature of the protagonist’s ordeal inevitably make it difficult to avoid repetition.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-18-22

what's rare is beautiful

This is a gripping read. Well written and a proper tribute to Mawson and his colleagues.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Lize vd Heever
  • 12-10-21

Interesting

Interesting to hear how explorers in the old times coped but it lbecomes a bit long and repetitive

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Swords and Spectres
  • 12-05-21

Far too much padding and awful pacing

I really like books that focus around adventurous expeditions and discovering our world in a time before satellites, comprehensive internet articles and well-stocked libraries of material made discovery such an easy thing for people in our modern age. The pioneers who put their lives on the line in environments they didn't, and couldn't, fully understand is a thing that draws me like a moth to a flame.

On the surface, 'Alone on the Ice' has everything my little adventurous heart could hope for. It has a daring artic expedition, it has tragedy that forces one man to attempt to not only survive, but escape the Antarctic on his own, and it has diary excerpts etc .. from the period. So I thought to myself 'self, this is a good thing. Pick it up, run with it, and prepare to feel frozen to your toes as your walk alongside Mawson in your mind's eye'.

And I did. But what my thoughts and hopes couldn't prepare me for was what else this book had. A something else that I didn't want and the book certainly didn't need: a mixture of horrible pacing and unnecessary additional details. The pacing, firstly is something I can't forgive. It was what gave this book, for me at least, a glass ceiling review score of three out of five. We start off on the expedition, something awful happens, I'm getting sucked in. I want to see where this goes. Well done author, I'm invested. Give it to me. Give. It. To. Me.

So we then cut to before everything happened so we can explore everyone involved in painful detail. We see how funding was attained, how much love for Shackleton Mawson has and how everyone came on to the expedition. Well done, author. I'm no longer invested. The excitement has been drained away.

We then cut back (we're over a third of the way into the book now. So lots of time spent on that) to the beginning of the expedition. Which confused the heck out of me as I had already witnessed one of the men die. Yet there he was, cheerfully plugging his way through the cold climes of the Antarctic. But that's fine, I'm back on the ice and getting my head around that little blip in time. Right, we're good to go. Yes, very much good to go. Good to go AWAY from the expedition and get to know Mawson and friends even more. So much time was given to the way Mawson met his wife, how he accepted the expedition photographer etc ... that I'm struggling. Seriously struggling to see how this is the greatest account of survival in history. It's the lengthiest build up, I'll give it that.

This continues throughout the book and it left me realising that the survival aspect boils down to walking on half/less than half rations per day to try to get back to your base camp. I'm not taking anything away from Mawson. The man was super-human who endured awful experiences and some of the most painful things I can imagine. Any man who has the soles of his feet fall of and carries on is a certified beast in my book. I certainly could not have done it and I know that trained pros have been unable to replicate his feats of endurance. That isn't my issue. My issue is taking the bare bones of his story, realising his powers of survival were that good that you could sell books of this stuff, and slapping inordinate amounts of filler into, onto and around the actual survival. That's my issue. I feel like I've been sold one part story two parts lie.

To carry on the lie, the author slips one into the blurb. According to the blurb: On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”. That's absolute nonsense. In the book Mawson clearly states he could tell the man was thinking 'which one are you?' but that isn't quite as eye-grabbing a line as the adjusted version.

Overall, I enjoyed the actual survival parts and I really enjoyed the historical look back at the end where we are told what became of everyone involved, the legacies of the men that died and just the entire aftermath of the AAE. I also felt connected to the expedition throughout due to the diary entries. Those things alone fought bravely against the negativity in the pacing and padding to keep this at a three rather than dipping any lower.

For the most part I enjoyed the narration. It was clear and concise. The only issue I had with it was the way he pronounced 'chocolate'. He said it 'choc-lit'. It was said so often near the end that I wished Mawson hadn't brought any of the blasted stuff. It may well have saved his life ... but my god, was that frustrating to hear. I know, I know, it's a petty gripe. But the narrator walked in to a room that had me already seething over poor pacing and extra padding. So the poor chap got moaned at as well.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-21-20

Enthralling

I loved this book. It's one of those one's where you're sad when it's finished and you have to find something else, which is rare for me to find.
Now all I want to do is read/watch/listen to stories about Antarctica.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mimaranda
  • 05-13-22

Great Story of Australian Antarctic Adventuring

Brilliant story of adventure and survival. Narrator has fantastic voice but pronunciation ofvsome words was a bit off (eg Macquarie sounding like McWorry). All in all a very worthwhile listen.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-26-21

Incredible tale

Though the pace lagged at times, with perhaps slightly superfluous information, the last half is impossible to stop listening to. Such an amazing group of people. The rare true explorers.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David
  • 10-18-15

Really good

Where does Alone on the Ice rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Top 2 for sure, along with "On the trail of Genghis Kahn".

Who was your favorite character and why?

Douglas Mawson.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Laugh at times but mostly just listen in awe.

Any additional comments?

I wish more people knew the storey of the man who at one stage was on Australia's $100 note.