Kenneth Branagh's Bookshelf
By Apsley Cherry-Garrard
This is the most beautifully written account of exploration—specifically, polar exploration—that we have. Cherry-Garrard was a young classics scholar who traveled to the Antarctic with Robert F. Scott's last expedition in 1910, and he conveys in such a vivid way what it was like to be on a wooden sailing ship at that time. The "worst journey" is a trip that he and two other explorers make to find the eggs of the emperor penguin, a trip on which the three men walk hundreds of miles and survive, among other horrific circumstances, a cataclysmic storm and having their tent blown away. The simplicity of Cherry-Garrard's language is deceptive: The physical rigors he and his companions suffer make you shiver, and his admiration for those he works for is unbounded; but he's so matter-of-fact, never suggesting that in his own case there was any great heroism involved (though clearly there was). The later account of the failed attempt to rescue Scott, something that haunted him for the rest of his life, is unbearably moving and unbearably tragic. I first read the book about 12 years ago, and it started my interest in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. And, of course, I reread it when preparing to play Ernest Shackleton.