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Roland Huntford (né Roland Horwitch;[1] born 1927) is an author, principally of biographies of Polar explorers.

Roland Huntford

Background and educationEdit

Huntford, the son of Lithuanian parents (originally "Horowitz") living in South Africa, has stated that he was educated at the University of Cape Town and Imperial College London.[1] In an interview with the glaciologist Charles Swithinbank, he claimed "his father was an Army officer and his mother was from Russia"; Ranulph Fiennes, however, observed that, during his own research on Captain Scott- in the course of which he presented reviews of, and himself assessed, Huntford's biographical work- he was unable to corroborate any of Huntford's own claims regarding his background, which presented his father as "some English colonial gentleman given to romantic travels in pre-Soviet Russia".[1]


Huntford's author biography, used in publicity for his books, states that he worked for the United Nations in Geneva, then as a journalist for The Spectator[1]. He was formerly Scandinavian correspondent of The Observer, also acting as their winter sports correspondent. He was the 1986–1987 Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford.

He has written biographies of Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Nobel Peace Prize winner Fridtjof Nansen; these biographies have been the subject of controversy.[1] Sir Vivian Fuchs, reviewing The Last Place on Earth (originally Scott and Amundsen) for The Geographical Journal, considered that in Huntford's book, "in keeping with the modern trend of debunking everything which previous generations found of value", "deliberately blind to any possible failings in Amundsen", "the full force of his vitriolic pen falls upon Scott as though he were pursuing a vendetta."[2] Controversy notwithstanding, The Last Place on Earth had a tremendous impact on public interest in Polar matters; Fiennes considers that the extent of the attention the book received has meant that "a number of subsequent Scott biographies refer constantly to Scott and Amundsen, or praise Huntford's scholarship."[3] In a review of Fiennes's Captain Scott (subsequently published as Race to the Pole) in The Spectator, Simon Courtauld referred to Huntford's biography as a "devastating demolition job — Scott bad, Amundsen good"[4] In the Polar Record, Karen May and George Lewis, in an assessment of Huntford's biography, concluded that "Huntford's interpretation of events shows a serious misunderstanding of the primary sources and historical context."[5]

Huntford put forth the point of view that Roald Amundsen's success in reaching the South Pole was abetted by much superior planning, whereas errors by Scott (notably including the reliance on man-hauling instead of sled dogs) ultimately resulted in the death of Scott and his companions.

Huntford's other books include Sea of Darkness, The Sayings of Henrik Ibsen and Two Planks and a Passion: The dramatic history of skiing. His polemical The New Totalitarians is a critique of socialism in Sweden, written from the point of view of western political culture. His main thesis was that the Swedish social democratic party, like the "new totalitarians" in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, relied less upon the violence and intimidation of the old totalitarians than upon sly persuasion and soft manipulation in order to achieve its goals.[6]

He now lives in Cambridge.


  • A Cultural History of Snow[7]
  • The Last Place on Earth [8]
  • The New Totalitarians[9]
  • The Shackleton Voyages[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e Race To The Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest, Ranulph Fiennes, Hyperion, 2004, p. 387
  2. ^ The Geographical Journal, vol. 146, No. 2 (Jul. 1980), pp. 272-274, "Review: Scott and Amundsen", V. E. Fuchs
  3. ^ Race To The Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest, Ranulph Fiennes, Hyperion, 2004, p. 385
  4. ^
  5. ^ Polar Record, vol. 50, issue 2, April 2014, Cambridge University Press, pp. 156-164, "'A kind of suicide'? Errors and misconceptions in Roland Huntford's account of the last days of Scott's polar party"
  6. ^ Marklund, Carl (2009). "Hot Love and Cold People. Sexual Liberalism as Political Escapism in Radical Sweden". NORDEUROPAforum. 19 (1): 83–101.
  7. ^ "A Cultural History of Snow by Roland Huntford (Bloomsbury)".
  8. ^ "The Last Place on Earth (Modern Library Exploration)".
  9. ^ "The New Totalitarians".
  10. ^ "The Shackleton Voyages".