Reference Points

January 25, 2009|By Chicago Tribune

Antarctica

Lonely Planet, $24.99

The "tourist" season in Antarctica is a short one - four months altogether, from the early summer of November to the late summer of February. The first "tourists" were, of course, the great explorers (James Cook, James Clark Ross, Roald Amundsen, Richard Byrd). But for the modern visitor, the more likely way to see this vast land - "If Antarctica were a country, it would be the world's second largest after Russia," notes author Jeff Rubin - is to book passage on a cruise ship. But getting there isn't cheap.

The book includes a fascinating wildlife guide, from humpback and sperm whales to emperor and king penguins. The last section, though, describes in captivating detail the kinds of natural landmarks and historic sites that visitors will see en route and while there, from sailing around famous Cape Horn to the various islands that lie on the perimeter of the continent to man-made monuments, eerie reminders of the human presence here, such as the explorers' huts on Ross Island or a museum in Port Lockroy that depicts how researchers once lived.

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