The Crystal Desert

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The author is the Henry Luce Professor of Nations and the GlobalEnvironment at Grinnel College, Iowa. An eminent scientificscholar, Campbell has explored more than one hundred countriesaround the world. His vast travels have taken him to all sevencontinents. In THE CRYSTAL DESERT: SUMMERS IN ANTARCTICA, Campbellintroduces his readers to Earth’s frozen continent that sits at thebottom of the globe. Always the diligent scientist, he is neverless than insightful in his observations about Antarctica and thecreatures that brave its harsh environment. THE CRYSTAL DESERTstands as a remarkable achievement because of the author’s almostpoetic prose, which he uses with great skill to bring thisseemingly desolate continent alive.

Life forms have a difficult time surviving the extreme cold ofAntarctica. Protozoans are the most abundant life form on thecontinent. Campbell also details the toughness of the parasites insuch an environment. Parasitic lice must find a way to attachthemselves to sea birds when they dive for food into the freezingsea. The author is able to translate into words his enthusiasm andfascination for everything that relates to Antarctica and thesurrounding waters. He spends a fair amount of time observingpenguins and seals. During the summer months, the variouscreatures that migrate to the region must complete their mating andbirthing cycles with a precision that literally will mean life ordeath. Campbell also describes the plight of whales over the lasttwo centuries. Whaling has decimated the whale population but ithas been very profitable for the countries that practice it, makingit a hard habit to break. Besides the whalers who have roamed theregion, Campbell details the explorations of the area by the famousand the forgotten. THE CRYSTAL DESERT is one of those rare booksthat succeed on all fronts, and the author rightly has won aHoughton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award for his achievement.