It makes sense that extreme swimmer Lynne Cox would be drawn to the polar explorer Roald Amundsen. And it makes sense that she would want to investigate his motivation, his methods and the source, as she puts it, of his greatness. She and Amundsen are, in some ways, kindred spirits.

“South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery” by Lynne Cox. Knopf, New York, 2011. 320 pages. $26.


It makes sense that extreme swimmer Lynne Cox would be drawn to the polar explorer Roald Amundsen. And it makes sense that she would want to investigate his motivation, his methods and the source, as she puts it, of his greatness. She and Amundsen are, in some ways, kindred spirits.


Her new book, “South with the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery,” sets out to profile Amundsen and his qualities on the 100th anniversary of his expedition to the South Pole.


“In many ways,” Cox writes, “we are all explorers, trying things we have never done before, entering into unknown territories of our lives and our life experiences and looking for hope, inspiration, and direction.”


Amundsen and his team were the first to reach the South Pole, just as he was the first to sail the entirety of the Northwest Passage. Amundsen trained and prepared, he developed new strategies and equipment based on his research, he networked and he was patient and dogged.


Cox is also a record-holder. Among her noteworthy accomplishments is her swim across the Bering Strait from the United States to Russia in 1987. She also she swam in the Antarctic and she once swam, at great risk to her own life, with a lost, baby whale looking for its mother. She’s made swims in water that is 28 degrees F, she’s clawed her way through ice and she makes these daring swims wearing a garden-variety bathing suit. She is completely exposed to the sub-freezing temperatures.


Her earlier books, “Swimming to Antarctica” and “Grayson,” are both great adventure stories that also describe attributes similar to Amundsen — persistence, research, networking. Cox does not take no for an answer and she is, as those reading “South with the Sun” will discover, friends with many notable people. At one point, after being told no, she wishes President Reagan were still alive because he was a supporter. She does not think it’s wise to contact Obama since, at the time, he had just taken office. Gary Hart, another supporter, does offer assistance, as do many others.


“South with the Sun” would have benefited from more attention to the book’s intended focus. We start out learning about explorers that influenced Amundsen, then Amundsen, and by the end of the book we’re reading about aviation, Admiral Richard Byrd, Operation Deep Freeze, AGAP (Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Province Project) and more. There are intentional digressions such as a visit to the New York Times’ publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s library, and numerous tangential forays, such as the story of an 85-year-old woman who decides to skydive on her birthday.


The link between Cox’s attraction to polar waters and Amundsen’s drive as a polar explorer is real. And good writers can make meaningful connections where none might be immediately apparent. Swimming is like exploring is like flying is fine, but it’s also a test of the reader’s patience. The book never quite finds itself.


Cox retraces Amundsen’s travels, making her way by plane from Greenland to Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago to Antarctica and back to Greenland. On a couple of occasions, Cox makes a commemorative arctic swim to more wholly connect with Amundsen and his remarkable spirit. These parallels between the book’s two main characters are the most interesting. There are many books by and about the polar explorers already. Cox’s commemoration should have stayed personal and brief, as was the case with “Grayson.”


Rae Francoeur can be reached at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or her book, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” available online or in bookstores.