On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica

On the Ice

An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
“Beautiful and nuanced.” —LAMBDA BOOK REPORT
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Negative 70-degree weather. Canned food that dates back at least a decade. Wind storms powerful enough to lift a human off the ground. Extremely unfashionable clothing. Welcome to Antarctica, the farthest-away place in the world.

Hoping to get away from the complexities of her life, Gretchen Legler arrives at McMurdo Station with the intention of researching the landscape; what she finds, instead, is a zany population of misfits and dreamers. Populated by people from all walks of life—bankers, MBAs, therapists, carpenters, scientists, laborers, and military brass—the individuals that Legler meets have gone to Antarctica to escape everything from parking tickets to angry spouses.

Part sociological study, part historiography, and part love story, On the Ice is an exploration of one of the most unexplored places on earth and the people who are drawn to it.

Publish Date
5.5 × 8.5 × 0.5 in
8.7 oz

Praise and Prizes

  • “Gretchen Legler has created a luminous portrait of a frozen Antarctic scientific station—and of her own thawing heart. For its desolation and its generosity, I will read this wonderful book again and again.”

    Sy Montgomery
    author of The Soul of an Octopus
  • “It’s Gretchen Legler’s musings on her surroundings that are the most emotional, whether she’s pondering sea creatures, ice caves, or Antarctic graffiti. These passages are so fun and poetic you’ll want to read them out loud.”

  • “Poetic and earnest … Gretchen Legler meticulously adds layers of history, geography, and biology to the story of the continent, until a beautiful and nuanced picture emerges. Meanwhile, Antarctica works its magic on her as the cold, hard facts of that extreme landscape melt Legler’s heart.”

    Lambda Book Report
  • “Gretchen Legler’s observations of the culture of McMurdo are most compelling… . Legler’s prose, as Thoreau’s, is dense and thoughtful … A reader may lose herself in it.”

    San Francisco Chronicle
  • “Gretchen Legler weaves a thoughtful, provocative story out of Antarctica’s unforgiving beauty. In precise, nuanced prose, she records not only its natural and human histories, its myths, legends, and old assumptions, but also the complexities of the community she finds at McMurdo Station.”

    Jane Brox
    author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light
  • “Gretchen Legler is a constant observer, whether she’s sailing aboard an ice-ramming research ship, visiting the huts of great explorers like Scott and Shackleton, or enjoying a getaway with friends at an isolated camping station… . The emotional honesty of Legler’s reporting significantly increases our understanding of life on the last great frontier.”

  • “Gretchen Legler chronicles a continent and a love affair in this poignant, beautiful book. She brings together science and art, isolation and intimacy, in language that frequently moved me to pangs of recognition and to tears. Having had the privilege of living in Antarctica, I saw in On the Ice both accuracy and poetry.”

    Christopher Cokinos
    author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds