Describes the events of the 1914 Shackleton Antarctic expedition when, after being trapped in a frozen sea for nine months, their ship, Endurance, was finally crushed, forcing Shackleton and his men to make a very long and perilous journey across ice and stormy seas to reach inhabited land.
Original publication date
The story is accompanied by great photographs and maps that help understand the situation they were in. Without them it would hard to imagine the hardship they went through but also how amazing their adventure really was. Very interesting to read!
I was most impressed with the expedition's documentation of their journey. The fact that Ms. Armstrong has so many pictures and stories to tell of what would have been a horrific and boring year of survival is a testament to the documentation skills of the crew. The story of carefully selecting which 150 photo negatives to save from the ship out of 400 is just one example of this. Unsurprisingly in the book, as survival becomes more difficult, supplies dwindle, and hope is more waning, there are fewer photographs in the book. But still much is mentioned about the crew attempting to write diary entries. Indeed, we would not have much of the information in this book about this expedition had the crew not documented so well. I wish the author had included more maps, but it would seem the author attempted only to use primary photograph and maps sources. Some maps earlier would have been helpful. Additionally, further research would indicate that the photograph on page 122 that says, "Saved!" is actually a photograph of the James Caird leaving, not them being saved, which also seems apparent given the size of the boat coming into the island for them, and that we seem to be looking at the back of the boat. The other photograph that may have been better-chosen is the one on page 38. While the author is careful to acknowledge the historical insensitivity of the person in blackface, the value the photograph provides to the story does not outweigh the distraction and repulsion it causes.
As a story about leadership, the quote on p. 9 explains everything about Shackleton: "'Aye, he's a fine leader, he is,' Cheetham replied. 'He don't run you into any danger if he can help it; buy, by gum! if there's danger, he goes first.'" The examples of leadership Shackleton displays throughout the story is remarkable. The way he occupies his crew's minds and gives them tasks could be converted to a classroom setting, that students, too, must complete their tasks for the sake of the class. The way Shackleton prevents mutiny by carefully reading the words of the Ship's Articles was impressive. Shackleton's ability to rotate people into different tents is an example of the need for teachers to rotate students around to avoid quarrels. And finally, Shackleton's ability to take the difficult parts of journeys, and select just the right people to help him, is critical. That nobody on the expedition died is a remarkable achievement.
Overall, I appreciated this book and the story it told. This story has value in a classroom setting, and a teacher could get a lot out of students with this story.
Armstrong uses journal entries, photos, and newspaper clippings to piece together the story of these brave men. The pictures alone are compelling and riveting, but when Armstrong adds her strong yet heartfelt words you literally feel as if you are stranded on the ice flow yourself with these men. The book is fairly long, but I couldn't put it down, even though I knew that everyone would be saved in the end. This book is vital for any classroom, especially as a non-fiction text that both boys and girls will enjoy and relish every moment of reading.
I really enjoyed this book and loved that is was written like an adventure novel. The author pulls you in with vivid imagey. The book is full of photographs that help tell the reader what was occurring and give perspective. The chapter headings were clearly designed to draw you in and tell the reader what the chapter would be about. The book is full of quotes taken from journals of the men, again, giving perspective. I could certainly see myself using this book to talk about temperature, different types of snow (I didn't know there were 18 kinds. Wow!), what the body can withstand, why you, ideally, should not eat raw meat, etc. Multiple subjects are overlapping in this book; history, social studies, science. It is a great book! My favorite so far.
Let me say that this book is not badly written. It is done, I feel, rather faithfully to the spirit of the explorers that nearly died on this expedition. The sheer fact that not a single person died is so unbelievable that it deserves to be read (not to mention that it makes it more appropriate for young readers). However, this book was not terribly pleasurable to read. The writing is dry, matter-of-fact, and at times is as monotonous as the lives of the sailors trapped on the ice for those many months. It is a quick read, but it tends to drag. Saying this, I have no idea how anyone could make being marooned on an icy wasteland for a year sound interesting for very long...but this book comes close.
The bibliography is thorough and the book is well-cited. The subject is thoroughly interesting and I feel its my own fault that I only find this book mildly entertaining to read.
I recommend this book for ages 11&up.
Armstrong does a great job of bringing the journey to life with help from photos and diary entries from the expedition. She gives us the full cutaway plans of the ship as well as the route they took from South George Island and back again. At the very beginning she tells us that they all survived, sacrificing a bit mystery, but allowing a sense of awe to build as things get worse and worse for the crew, yet we know that they all lived and we keep wondering how they could possible accomplish that feat. She shows exactly how fitting the name Endurance came to be for the failed expedition and the crew themselves. This adventure was endurance beyond understanding and well worth the read.
I greatly enjoyed this book (can you tell?). The superb writing of Jennifer Armstrong serves as a testament to what a captivating, passionate non-fiction book should be. I recommend anyone above the age of nine read this tale.
Prior to this book, I was unaware of the massive voyage undergone by these people. Sure, I knew that trips like these had taken place, but I did not know the specifics. I had no idea how treacherous these journeys, like this one, could be.
This book seems to be appropriate for people of all ages, from kids to grownups. It would do really well in a middle school social studies class, especially with students who like action and adventure, or maybe even a freshmen level geology class that is learning about the areas that pertain to this book.
The illustrations are great, as well.
Note: The picture of Lionel Greenstreet on page 68 is excellent.
I have a few concerns that I will describe now; I feel that my ability to give them the weight they merit has been prejudiced by my enjoyment of the story, so I will let the reader of this review evaluate their significance. The primary negative of this book is the sourcing. Armstrong is not clear as to where exactly the information she asserts is coming from. There were journals and such on the expedition, but the specifics of what came from where are not explicitly stated. On this note, there is dialogue between crew members, and it is impossible for the reader to know whether this is from primary sources, or whether Armstrong made it up.
Beyond this serious concern, I noticed some terms were not defined, which can pose a problem for the young reader. Armstrong mentioned Antarctic fauna, particularly birds without particularly describing them. It would have been fun for the reader to pull out an illustrated identification guide to look up petrels and skuas, but also unsettling for a reader who could not. There were a few nautical terms or parts of a ship that were not explained either (though the blueprints in the front of the book answer most of these questions).
However, I would have to say that Armstrong's explanations of Antarctic phenomena are possibly the strongest part of this book. She clearly and simply explains phenomena that are outside the range of most readers' experience (particularly those in New Orleans for whom snow itself is a mysterious substance). Honorable mention goes to her explanation of celestial navigation and the resolution of the longitude problem through use of accurate chronometers (the astronomy geek in the reviewer wishes she would have described occulation, a celestial method to approximate latitude, but we cannot have everything we ask for), the meterology and climatology of the region, explaining the high wind-speed, unique waves, the process of iceberg formation, and how the Earth's axial tilt is responsible for weather and changes in daylight seasonally. First place goes to her description of types of snow. Scrabble-players are advised to read the beginning of the chapter "The Face of the Deep is Frozen." The gap between this New Orleanian's vocabulary for snow and that of the Eskimo has narrowed immensely.
A possible complaint could be what the book does not mention. Very little is said about events after the expedition. Another facet I found interesting but was not addressed was the idea of isolation, that these men were out of contact with civilization. They departed Agentina just as World War I was beginning, and yet I saw very little thought given to what must going on at home.
However, none of this detracts from the narrative. When our class read "Almost Astronauts" about the women who were tested for the Mercury program, I thought that the discription of their travails was somewhat repetitive and predictable. X, Y, and Z was done to so-an-so, and she did really well. X, Y, and Z was done to the next three so-an-sos, and they did really well too. And then something like X, Y and Z was done to..., and guess what? They did really well!... and so on. (I am not trying to take away from the subject matter of the book, or compare what the Mercury 13 v. the Endurance crew went through, my problem is specifically with the storytelling.) I did not have this problem with Armstrong's book at all. Though it may be some latent gender bias, I felt as though the descriptions of freezing breath, saltwater blisters, etc. were short, clear, vivid, but not postponing the narrative.
I would recommend this book to a student with an interest in adventure. In terms of encouraging reading, or of learning about history, geography, and science, this book is perhaps second to none. However, in terms of using this book with an entire class, there may be better stories. Perhaps the exception would be a geography class that was spending substantial time on Antarctica (though I do not think that is likely), but aside from that the focus of this book is too specific. This book would not give a general understanding of life in the early Twentieth Century (so a History teacher may want to look elsewhere), and the science is broad and clearly explained, but not in depth enough for a science teacher's purpose. Perhaps creativity can make up for these deficiencies, but I think the adventure element of this book is too big of a focus to spend class time on. Perhaps an English class could use this book though. It could provide interesting story ideas, be a good companion read to an adventure novel, and the narrative structure of the book might make it an ideal candidate to be used to teach students how to read nonfiction. The technical language and broad reach of concepts addressed in this book makes me reluctant to use with all but the most advanced middle schoolers, though it may be a good tool to teach high schoolers how to read a book that requires outside resources to enhance context (such as a science textbook or a bird identification guide).
While the content is satisfying, the most outstanding aspect of the book is its format. The cover is a near canvas of white except for the bottom third, which contains a photograph of the harnessed crew dragging a boat behind them. The imposing blank background impresses upon the view a sense of isolation and impotence in the face of nature. Throughout the book there are more amazing photos that transplant the reader into a barren, Antarctic wasteland bespeckeled by only their own human settlements. There are photos of the crew, their ship, before and after icy torture, as well as snapshots of thier everyday lives. One page contains four crew portraits; these portraits put a face on man's desire for adventure and exploration. The deeply creased faces of the men speak not of a coddled life, but of weather and sea and peril. Over and over the photographs depict the struggle playing out in the book: nature's fury and harshness and the human drive to conquer it. The book also contains maps, blueprints of The Endurance, lists of crew members and their specialaties in relation to the voyage.
The text is interesting and it is easy to follow the chain of events transpiring in the book. There are humerous anecdotes, such as Mrs. Chippy and the stowaway, as well as tense tales of near mutiny. However, the photos taken by an Endurance crew members are what really sets this book apart. We all know what a picture is worth.
Armstrong use of details brings a great amount of geographical and scientific knowledge to the reader. The work provide intervals of intricate details such as temperature, coordinates, process of turning seawater into fresh water, astrological alignment, and wildlife accounts. Then, Armstrong content pattern follows with a particular circumstance or continues the storyline of Shackleton and his crew as they move from aboard the shipwreck Endurance and their travels through the ice shelves of Antartica.
This work provides the reader with interesting dynamics of the South Pole which can be incorporated in the study of Geography, Math, or even Earth Science and use in History to compare Shackleton to early European explores.
A major cause for concern is that Armstrong does not include details on sources for this work. These sources, if included, would have allowed for authenticating information presented.
There are photos taken by the ship’s photographer, throughout the book. There are maps and a diagram of the Endurance. It also contains an epilogue, index, bibliography, and acknowledgments. In the acknowledgements, Armstrong discusses her sources including primary sources such as the logbook from Endurance.
This book will appeal to middle grade readers. It might appeal to reluctant male readers. Shipwreck At the Bottom of the World is easy to read with short chapters and gripping pictures. The hundredth anniversary of the expedition would make an interesting tie-in. This book could be used as part of a larger unit on the exploration of Antarctica. There are numerous math problems to be explored from the distances covered before and after the ship was destroyed, the size of Antarctica, the amount of food needed by the crew, the stores brought aboard ship for the voyage. This unit could also the biology and geography of Antarctica. Extensions could be made comparing the North and South Poles. Students could also compare Antarctic research today with 100 years ago.
Although a very intriguing read for mature children and young adults, I would not recommend a story with so many dead puppies, penguins, and seals to a younger reader. Also, Segments of the story might be fascinating in a number of content areas. For example, in the context of a geography class, one might find excerpts helpful in describing the harsh conditions of Antarctica. However, I struggle to see any direct classroom application. With classroom time at a premium, a history teacher would prefer to cover more pivotal events. This is a great book, and an interested young reader would find it compelling and informative, but I do not know how I could use this in a classroom.
If teaching this topic I would recommend this book over Armstrong's children's book version of the same information.
I have placed this book in the Documents, journals, diaries, and albums category. It could also be placed in the biography category. The use of primary sources, both paraphrase and quotes, adds great richness to the story. The photographs from the epic trek are amazing and well captioned to fit into the story. Even details in the captions such as explaining that a photograph of Hurley's on page 40 add much to the understanding of the entire story. Caption explains that photo looks like a negative because the trapped Endurance is covered in white snow when the sun didn't rise at all for months. Sources are all well documented with included references and also in the bibliography. In examining criteria for nonfiction, I am struck by the firm documentation resulting in a great deal of accuracy. The story itself is sensational, but there is no sensationalism. Content includes the scope of this story which is more detailed than presented here. But the chosen focus is to give the juvenile reader enough detail without being overwhelming. I think the author has handled this task well. Her tone is serious, but admiring of the dtermination of these men. Her clarity is appropriate to her audience and she does explain special equipment and tools of navigation. There are still terms which will need explanation for full understanding. Unfortunately, I find most young readers just skip over those terms and miss the full comprehension willingly. The book is organized chronologically and well illustrated with photos, maps, and drawings.