‘We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.’ Ernest Shackleton’s lines unscroll through both these complementary books. David Grann’s The White Darkness is all-man, the gripping story of mighty but quite straightforward struggles. The Library of Ice, brimming with men, women, ships, science, complexity, brevity and beauty, has a precision and quiet brilliance which suggest the feminine. In fact, these qualities belong simply to the author, Nancy Campbell. Readers will finish her quasi-travel book, a search for an ‘understanding’ of ice, wary of any idleness of expression, any generality in thought. Campbell seems incapable of either. There is not one inelegant or flabby line in 300 pages of the best writing that I have relished this year (along with Jan Morris’s Battleship Yamoto).