This is an appreciative but critical biography of a man who, despite notable achievements, comes across as an egomaniacal, depressive, ambitious, narcissistic, vindictive, white supremacist, a sometimes petty man, yet one who could be generous, brave, physically courageous. He is almost a model of the lonely depressive hero.
p. 1: Introduction: There are no heroes now. Our cynical, mistrustful age has no use for them, nor for adventuring, which all too often seems contrived and, in the case of amateurs on Everest, foolhardy as well. The world’s last legitimate explorers, NASA’s lunar astronauts, might have been the high priests of the Right Stuff, but they were also Spam in a can. As long as they performed for the space agency, their free spirits were subordinated and sanitized to conform to an image of bloodless competence. They played not many roles but just one: interchangeable cogs in a drama that exalted technology above humanity….
But in the years between the world wars, when the twentieth century was still young and the Western public gasped at the fragile tendrils of belief and hope left from the physical and moral wreckage of the western front, great men performing valiant deeds in far-off, exotic places could still set popular pulses pounding. For many years, Richard Evelyn Byrd stood above all the rest—even Lindbergh.
p. 15—the importance of his father’s library in Byrd’s early life.
p. 362: Stuart Paine was editor of TAE II’s weekly news sheet, “Barrier Bull.”
p. 364, at Byrd’s isolated Advance Base: He tried to read Emil Ludwig’s Napoleon and one of John P. Marquand’s more obscure novels, but often the pages blurred after a moment or two and his headache either returned or intensified. Music was better. … When he could not read, he played solitaire, but “much of the time my arms got very tired just dealing the cards.”
This is a very long and ultimately tedious biography with short periods of excitement punctuating longeurs of monotony. There is little about his or his colleagues reading, and the mystery of what happened to the books in the various libraries of Little America is not addressed.