Two Against the Ice is a smoothly and dramatically written book accessible to a wide range of young readers. Mason has a sense of dramatic structure that renders the episodic narrative virtually seamless and gives the reader a sense of involvement and immediacy in the adventure of polar exploration. Each episode builds to a dramatic climax, with the explorers facing and overcoming life-threatening situations on the ice and going on to reach their destinations and chart unexplored regions. Mason shows a deep understanding of the explorers’ life-style. The book includes myriad details about diet, health, pests, ships, navigation, cartography, weather, sled dogs, research methods, polar camping, and survival techniques. The chapter on the Gjoa expedition offers lengthy accounts of Amundsen’s encounters with isolated Arctic natives. Rather than establish a steady pace through historical chronology, Mason passes quickly over long stretches in his subjects’ lives and delves penetratingly into other sequences, sometimes recounting events day by day or hour by hour. This flexibility with temporal sequencing contributes to the suspense and urgency of each trial.
The plethora of details at times comes too quickly, especially when involving technical scientific or meteorological terminology, and sometimes leaves concepts unclear. Mason does not explain, for example, exactly how an explorer establishes that he or she is precisely over the North or South Pole, though the issue of location is clearly not a small one, even for the explorers themselves. He sometimes offers descriptions of the glacial landscape that do not quite convey...
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Mason began his career as a Navy journalist in Pensacola, Florida, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before joining the Antarctic Support Force and making five jour-neys to Antarctica, which included time at McMurdo Station and one full austral summer. His credentials as a writer on life in the polar regions are unquestionable. Before Two Against the Ice, he published On the Ice in Antarctica (1978) and The South Pole Ponies (1979).
When the biography of Amundsen and Ellsworth appeared in 1982, reviewers and critics praised its evocative power. Both Booklist and Horn Book complimented Mason’s evocation of the dangers and beauties of polar life and of the men who challenged it and the period in which they lived. Nancy Hammond, in the latter publication, criticized the opening chapter and the lack of a chronological overview. Dorcas Hand, while finding the style dry and lifeless, wrote that the natural intrigue of Mason’s subjects overcame stylistic faults. He considered Two Against the Ice to be a fine complement to Byrd’s popular autobiography, Alone (1938).
The strongest praise came from Rosalie Emm, writing in Best Sellers. She found the writing to be skillful and captivating, and noted the strength of Mason’s research and knowledge of his subjects. Noting the portrayal of Amundsen’s and Ellsworth’s mentor-disciple relationship, she said that the young reader is indirectly shown characteristics that lead to success and that the book offers only positive values. She gave the book an unqualified “A” rating.