When it comes to this book, I am already biased.
I enjoy almost all books about exploration and adventure. And an exploration is exactly what this book is.
The Impossible First is the autobiographic account of Colin O’Brady’s first solo, unassisted crossing of Antarctica. Simply put --- he walked across the continent with no help except for the 300 lb sled he pulled with his supplies.
Exploration a hundred years ago were different than today. They were stories of forbidden or unexplored places --- quite literally “dark” corners on the map. They were stories of finding the source of the Nile and Amazon. Stories of discovering lost civilizations and tribes. Stories of mapping unknown parts of the African continent.
Nowadays, exploration stories are most often feats of endurance, mainly in polar regions. (Space, deep ocean, and cave exploration are other common explorations). These stories are as hard if not harder than those of the prior century. They are certainly much colder and probably more miserable!
Overall, The Impossible First is a good story, but not great. It’s mainly because of the story being told. No matter how remarkable the feat was, at its core, this book tells the story of a man walking across Antarctica for over 70 days by himself.
Each day is the same. That’s the point. Nothing exciting happens. You don’t want exciting things happening in Antarctica. Exciting things can kill you. You want steady progress and no mistakes. This is what Colin executed and this is why he accomplished this remarkable feat.
That being said, publishing editors matter. And, good editing makes this telling of Colin’s story as enjoyable and exciting as possible.
Walking across Antarctica solo, unassisted is hard enough --- but, what if it was also a race? At the same time Colin is attempting his crossing so is another famous arctic explorer.
The Impossible First includes past accounts of arctic expeditions, many of which ended tragically. The interjection of this history makes real the extreme risk and courage of the mission, which can be lost while reading since the outcome known.
Finally, The Impossible First dives into the life of Colin and the events that lead to his exploration. It relives his tragic accident as a young man. It shows how he overcomes his physical setbacks to become a top triathlete. And, then the book details how Colin started exploration as his next goal. Understanding the history (as with most things) makes the Antarctica crossing even more remarkable.
The Impossible First is a good read. It’s a satisfying read. And, it will definitely pique your interest in exploring --- if only taking a slightly different route on your daily commute.