Pole to Pole

Michael Palin

With a new introduction by the author

Pole to Pole is Michael Palin’s account of his epic journey from the Arctic to Antarctic, via the USSR, Africa and South America: a classic adventure in a beautiful Folio Society edition, with superb original photography.

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‘Palin’s gentle humour and astute eye keep you turning the pages.’
  1. Evening Standard

Pole to Pole is Michael Palin’s legendary account account of an extraordinary journey from the North to the South Pole. His challenge was to follow the 30°E longitude line by land and sea, taking to the air only as a last resort. In the gruelling six-month trek, Palin covered 23,000 miles across 17 countries, including Norway, Russia and Ukraine (at the time, both part of the USSR), Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Chile. Opening with a new introduction by the author, in which he recalls his childhood dreams of far-off lands and legendary adventurers, this lavish Folio edition includes 24 pages of colour photography – a rich compendium of landscapes, nations and people, bookended by shots of Palin standing alone at each extremity of the earth. The newly redrawn maps are the work of illustrator Sara Mulvanny, whose whimsical cover design shows every mode of transport used in the trip. Frank, perceptive and very funny, Pole to Pole is an epic journey with the most engaging of travel companions.

Bound in printed cloth with a design by Sara Mulvanny

Set in Meridien with FreightSans Pro as display

320 pages

24 pages of colour plates, mono motifs throughout

5 mono maps

Printed slipcase

9½˝ x 6¼˝

Home seems impossibly far away as we step out onto a rough base of ice and snow. The temperature is minus twenty-five Centigrade. This is considered warm.

For much of the journey from the Arctic to Antarctic, by ship, train, truck, skidoo, balloon and bicycle, Palin was accompanied by friend and travel photographer Basil Pao. His camera provided many of the wonderful pictures in this Folio edition: the faded grandeur of Leningrad, passengers riding on the roof of a Sudanese train, and a witch doctor in Tanzania, among many other striking images. They capture the spirit of Palin’s honest, blisters-and-all travelogue, culled from diaries and tape recordings produced on the road. He is at his best on the trip’s perils and misfortunes, from avoiding trigger-happy riot police in Ethiopia to breaking a rib during an ill-advised dip in the Zambezi. His eye for the absurd is undimmed since Monty Python – as when he presents a gift from Watford to its Soviet twin town of Novgorod, or experiences cream teas, cricket and brass bands in scorching heat at a British outpost in Cyprus. Palin’s sense of fun is infectious, but the comedy is never overbearing: Pole to Pole belongs in the great tradition of adventure writing.

Pole to Pole is a vivid snapshot of the world in 1991, a year of profound geopolitical change. In Palin’s exclusive new introduction, after recalling the thrill of seeing such a variety of natural and cultural wonders, he adds: ‘What I hadn't expected was to see human history unfolding in an equally spectacular way.’ He visited the Soviet Union on the eve of its collapse, sensing both tension and hope in Estonia, Russia and Ukraine, and barely missing the attempted coup d’état against Gorbachev. Palin arrived in Ethiopia just after the fragile conclusion to a decades-long civil war, entered Zambia on the day that Kenneth Kaunda’s 28-year presidency ended, and witnessed the dismantling of South African Apartheid in progress. As he writes, ‘The world had changed en route from pole to pole, and so had I.’

Michael Palin came to prominence in the 1960s as a writer and actor in satirical TV programmes such as The Frost Report and Do Not Adjust Your Set. From 1969 he starred in and co-wrote the sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the films and live shows based on it. Alongside a successful career as an actor in comedic and dramatic parts – he won a BAFTA for his role in A Fish Called Wanda – Palin became one of the best-known presenters and writers of travel documentaries, mostly for the BBC. Great Railway Journeys of the World was followed by landmark series such as Around the World in 80 Days and Full Circle. Palin wrote bestselling books to accompany many of these series and has also published four well-received volumes of his diaries, as well as fiction for adults and children. He was knighted for services to travel, culture and geography in 2019.


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