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About the book
  • Published: 15 November 2013
  • ISBN: 9780099565963
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $27.99

Empire Antarctica

Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins


Empire Antarctica is the story of one man and his fascination with the world's loneliest continent, as well as the emperor penguins who weather the winter with him. This is travel writing at its very best.


*Shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Biography Prize*
* Shortlisted for the 2013 RSL Ondaatje Prize *
* Shortlisted for Banff Adventure Travel Prize *
* Shortlisted for Saltire Book of the Year Award *

Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime's ambition when he spent fourteen months as the base-camp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.

Antarctica offered a year of unparalleled silence and solitude, with few distractions and very little human history, but also a rare oppurtunity to live among emperor penguins, the only species truly at home in the Antarctic. Following the penguins throughout the year -- from a summer of perpetual sunshine to months of winter darkness -- Gavin Francis explores a world of great beauty conjured from the simplest elements, the hardship of living at 50°C below zero and the unexpected comfort that the penguin community bring.

  • Pub date: 15 November 2013
  • ISBN: 9780099565963
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $27.99

About the Author

Gavin Francis

Gavin Francis was born in 1975 and brought up in Fife, Scotland. After qualifying from medical school in Edinburgh he spent ten years travelling, visiting all seven continents. He has worked in Africa and India, made several trips to the Arctic, and crossed Eurasia and Australasia by motorcycle. His first book, True North, was published in 2008. His next book, Empire Antarctica, was shortlisted for the Costa and Ondaatje Prizes and won Scottish Book of the Year in 2013. He contributes regularly to the Guardian, London Review of Books, and the New York Review of Books. He lives in Edinburgh


Praise for Empire Antarctica

“A finely written account of an extreme experience of the Antarctic, worthy to stand beside some of the great travel narratives in the English language.”

RSL Ondaatje Prize Judges

“Empire Antarctica is the embodiment of everything I admire in travel writing -- a great journey, intense isolation, wide reading, vivid writing, scientific research, and something in the nature of an old-fashioned ordeal. That Gavin Francis is a medical doctor, with an important role to play in the darkness and cold at the ends of the earth, is a bonus. I loved this book.”

Paul Theroux

“One of the best travel titles I have read in a long time. Thoughtful, lyrical, extremely well written, it’s a triumph.”

Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller

“A beautiful, profound and highly readable account of a remarkable personal adventure. Francis’s pacing is deft, his prose vivid, his research worn lightly. This is probably as close as most of us will ever get to experiencing a modern polar winter. Empire Antarctica is surely destined to become a standard, not so much of travel as of staying very still.”

Ed O'Loughlin, Daily Telegraph

“Francis’ best writing (and it is excellent)... is Robert Macfarlane on ice. This writing achieves the ‘quilted quality’ of silence, and through it we are brought to a new landscape of words.”

Katherine MacInnes, Literary Review

“A Sunday Times Travel Book of Month: 'A book full of wonder. Brilliantly imagined, superbly brought to life'”

Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times

“This is the sort of book that gives obsession a very good name. Here, in a cold, silent place you realise that obsession is another name for love. And love leads to extraordinary and beautiful writing -- this is a wonderful book”

Sara Maitland

“A valuable addition to polar literature, vividly describing the brutal, but beautiful, realities of undergoing an Antarctic winter”

Ranulph Fiennes

“An extraordinary book -- lyrical, precise, intoxicating and with a remarkable spiritual depth”

A.L. Kennedy

“One of those rare books that leaves you with an almost breathless sense of the wonders of the planet. Beautiful, erudite and informative, it speaks joyously of the indomitability of Man and the natural world alike”

Esther Woolfson

“Mesmerising and memorable”


“An awe-inspiring memoir of a modern-day pioneer who writes with a poetic style and descriptive flourish that is part education, part enthrallment, and wholly entertaining.”

Shari Low, Daily Record

“Part-travelogue, part memoir, part natural history book, a fascinating, lyrical account of one of the strangest places on earth and its majestic inhabitants.”


“He writes beautifully about the strange other-worldly allure of this habitat of ice and snow”

Siobhan Murphy, Metro

“He perceives...continuous sights, sounds and sensations, writing as vividly and as fiercely in darkness at noon or in sunlight at midnight”

Iain Finlayson, The Times

“Excellent mix of travel and nature writing”

Nic Bottomley, Bath Life

“Lyrical and enjoyable account”

Tom Robbins, Financial Times


Lesley Glaistor, Scotsman

“[An] intense and lyrical portrait... shines with a clarity and lyricism descended from Thoreau”


“His [Gavin's] description of what he found out about himself and his re-navigation of his personal compass in this bleakly remote location is utterly compelling”

Janet Archer, Scotsman

“Travel writing at its very best combining evocative narrative with a sublime sensitivity to the natural world”

Edinburgh Evening News

“A brilliant combination of Antarctic essay, travelogue and autobiography. For a man that wanted to be alone, he writes so well you're there with him”

John Lloyd, TheBookbag

“An absorbing account of life at the end of the world”

Alastair Mabbott, Herald

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