I found an interesting reading list in the book The Impossible Journey: Unarmed to the South Pole, by Odd Harald Hauge (Pax Forlag 1995), which recounts the expedition of three Norwegian explorers to the South Pole.
The book derives its title from one of the three Polar explorers, Cato Zahl Pedersen (pictured on the dust jacket), who lost an arm and half of the other when he was 14 years old. In a prelude to an adventurous life, the teenager climbed up a high voltage pylon and received a shock of 17,000 volts, which caused him to fall 30 feet. Either of those accidents should have killed him, but they didn't. One arm was amputated at the shoulder and the other at the elbow. At the time of this book's publication, he was a prominent player in the development of sport for the disabled. He also won 13 gold medals participating in the Paralympics. The English version of Pedersen's Web site can be viewed HERE (google translation a bit rough in spots).
The other two explorers on the expedition were the author, Hauge, and Lars Ebbesen. In a folio size book that features many images of incredible, stark beauty, it's easy to get caught up in the photos of the harsh environment and its effect on the explorers. But it was one of either Hauge or Ebbesen (can't tell which) trying to read a book in a tent that piqued my interest on a bookish level.
Here's a routine activity (routine for most environments) that could be taken for granted at first glance. Apparently, a great deal of thought went into which books to bring on the trip. Content and weight factored in the decision of what to lug along to the South Pole.
The photo below is titled Most Words Per Ounce, followed by a reading list based on that criteria, which includes some commentary on the authors and/or books. The Grisham comment appears to be the only dated one.
Only three books. Flash forward to present day and the advent of e-books and their reading devices. These explorers could have packed a Kindle full of hundreds or thousands of books and other reading matter for about the same weight requirement as the three paperbacks they chose. Or could they?
Choice of books is difficult on an expedition. There are countless books you would like to read, but the criterion is most words per ounce (it must be a paperback, therefore). The Bible is unbeatable in this way, but the following were judged to be light enough.
Cider House Rules (under 10 ozs) by John Irving, that masterly story-teller who always uses more words than necessary. If another debate on abortion is in the offing, this book is compulsory reading.
Taipan (12 3/4 ozs) by James Clavell is the book about the birth of Hong Kong in 1840. It is hard to imagine anything more remote from the Antarctic in time or space.
The Pelican Brief (7 3/4 ozs) by John Grisham, America's most feted thriller writer at the time. A lot of good legerdemain, but illogically put together--will this man be just a passing fad?
E-books seem to have some problems with cold temperatures (as well as really hot temperatures). It gets a little chilly in the Polar regions, so looks like the low tech/old tech reading devices (books of paper and ink) will have to suffice for any current expeditions into extreme environments. And maybe not so extreme, according to this post found on the blog, Brillig.
Either way, books will always be possible and, perhaps, necessary in any environment, impossible journey or not.