Book Review: Race to the Pole by James Cracknell and Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle is one of a select group of posh Englishmen I actually quite like. He makes decent television programmes, in a warm and slightly twee way, and seems like a decent bloke who has done some cool things. One of these was rowing across the Atlantic ocean with James Cracknell, Olympic Gold Medal winning rower. That trip, fraught and dangerous as it was, saw the duo become friends and in search of more adventure they signed up for a race to the South Pole. This is the book they co-wrote about the expedition, which jumps between both narrators and highlights their different characters, attitudes and perspectives.

racetothepole fogle cracknell

I love a book about adventuring and this ticks a lot of boxes, with Cracknell, Fogle and third team member Ed Coats, a doctor from Bristol, facing extreme conditions, massive physical strain and personal tensions as they try to reach the South Pole first. What’s remarkable is how well the trio do despite difficulties in their training, inexperience and the difficult conditions.

The alternating narration really helps as we get to see their actions from within and without, allowing us to see the reasoning or emotions behind them but also how they came across. It’s also interesting in that despite facing the same race, it also shows how differently the men approached things and the problems each faced individually.

Of the two I warmed most to Fogle, who writes in an easy, affable manner where he shares his emotions and expresses himself rather well. Cracknell, however, is a bit more gruff, even here and while he is funny at times and has moments of insight, he seems a bit harsher on the other team members and at times is stubborn and angry with them. That being said, I did come to like him and there is a steeliness and resolve to him that is admirable.

It’s a shame Coats doesn’t get to share his story, as that would add even more insight and perspective to the trip.

Of course, the tensions between the three men is one of the most fascinating parts as is how they view themselves within the team. Fogle and Coats both confess to being intimidated by Cracknell’s sporting background and physical prowess, while he is concerned and irritated by what he perceives as their lack of focus and dedication. It’s rather interesting when they reach Antarctica and begin racing that Cracknell struggles.

The race itself sounds like madness, a gruelling ordeal that the men push on through with little enjoyment and plenty of risks. While reaching the pole must provide a real buzz and feeling of achievement, the arduous route there hardly seems worth it. That being said, it is inspiring just for the grit and drive of those taking part.

It’s an interesting and involving read, narrated by two different men it shows the mindset needed to plough on through difficult circumstances and how resilient the human spirit and body can be. Antarctica is still on the bucket list, but I don’t think I’ll try and ski to the pole.

Verdict: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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