True or false?

You wait and wait for someone to publish a guidebook to Antarctica, then two come along at once.

True. For those who feel depressed at how small and trampled the world has become, two guidebooks offer consolation. They describe a continent covering a tenth of the earth's land surface. It has no hotels, no towns, and a century ago it had not heard the sound of a human voice. It is the loneliest, most unspoilt place on earth -indeed, one of the guides asks whether you should really go there at all.

The continent is, of course, Antarctica, whose icy mass I have had the privilege of sailing to. And the Lonely Planet guidebook (pounds 11.99) puts forward the unique suggestion that maybe we should steer clear of it. The book is another impressive volume of informed opinion and plain useful facts from a publisher that usually concentrates on the independent traveller. There are not many backpackers hitching around the Polar plateau, so I suspect a slightly different customer will buy this book.

There has been an enormous increase in the number of cruise-ships visiting the Ice in the past few seasons, filled with rich, elderly passengers receiving a lot of information from on-board lecturers. They may not feel that they need to take a book as well, but I suggest they do. Even those with a passing interest in this vast land should read it. And if you decide to make your way independently, this book tells you how to do it - and provides information about the jumping off ports of Cape Town, Punta Arena and Hobart.

In comparison, Sara Wheeler's Cadogan Guide (also entitled Antarctica, price pounds 12.99) looks a little thin. She does, though, have a comprehensive list of tour operators going south, and shares a concern for the future of the continent.

Somewhere down there in the dark Antarctic winter is a single footprint in a moss bed left by a tourist nearly 20 years ago. The moss is so fragile and so slow-growing that it will take a further 20 years to erase the impression. Unless we are careful we will eventually destroy what we want to see.

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