In August 1914, renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven set sail for the South Atlantic in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in the history of exploration: the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent. They came within eighty-five miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped fast in the ice pack, and the crew was stranded on the floes. Their ordeal lasted for twenty grueling months, and the group made two near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before they were finally rescued. Drawing upon previously unavailable sources, Caroline Alexander gives us a riveting account of Shackleton's expedition. An extraordinary re-creation of the terrible beauty of Antarctica, the awful destruction of the ship, and the crew's heroic daily struggle for survival, The Endurance thrillingly describes one of the last great adventures in the brave age of exploration perhaps the greatest of them all.
This seems to be largely attributable to Shackleton's leadership style. He was always optimistic, did not allow negative or pessimistic conjectures; he was very solicitous of the well-being of the men, and he seems to have not been infected by the class snobbishness so characteristic of his time; he had an excellent eye for those who might cause trouble, and he acted quickly and decisively when necessary to deal with problems and to isolate difficult personalities.
The story is woven together through the diaries of various members of the expedition, and in this edition it is beautifully illustrated with photographs taken by Hurley, the expedition's official photographer. The clarity, the composition, and the sheer beauty of many of these photographs is astonishing and they add wonderfully to the description of the ordeal. They are all the more impressive when one considers the conditions under which they were taken, the state of photographic technology in 1914, and the harsh conditions under which the negatives had to be stored and treated.
Shackleton pulled together an incredibly disparate group of men, most of whom dispersed around the globe when it was all over, and who, with few exceptions, had little or no interest in staying in touch afterwards. The experience was unique; the incredible physical closeness and the fact that the men depended so much on each other for their survival was special to that time and place and did not translate, for most, into any lasting friendships or even acquaintances.
In the aftermath of WWI, Shackleton could not really take advantage of his story; after the carnage of the Ypres and the Somme, there was not much appetite for adventure stories, and the Brits already had the doomed hero of Scott to hang on to. Shackleton survived by touring and giving some lectures, and a stint as an arctic advisor, or some such thing, in a British Mission in Russia post-war, but he never really settled down or found his niche. Even the royalties of a book he wrote on the adventure had to go to creditors of the expedition who hounded him for payment. He ended up recruiting a few of the Endurance crew for a trip to the southern points, in particular South Georgia, where he was known and recognized for what he had achieved. He died there of a heart attack, in 1922 at 47 years of age; his wife instructed that he should be buried there rather than be returned to Britain. A poignant end for a man who was never successful in the "civilian" world, but who had a reputation as an arctic explorer, and who showed greatness in one great trail of life.
Danger vested immediately as the ship was consumed by the icy forces of raw nature and the crew, including 69 sledging dogs and a cat named Mrs. Chippy, was on its won with no means of escape. The adventure was captured with the artistic photography of Frank Hurley, with many previously unpublished photos prominent in this story.
Endurance was entombed by ice in the early months of 1915. The story touches on the lives and feelings of the crew, as well as the amazing leadership of Shackleton. He seemed to prize optimism in his men, which he referred to as “true moral courage.” The reader is there with these brave souls, anticipating each step in the process with the enduring question of whether they will survive to return to England (and World War I) -- boiling whale blubber, catching penguins for food, tending to the parasite infested dogs, addressing the aches and fears of the crew, giggling at the antics of the dogs, or the seeing the natural beauty of the icescape.
By August of 1915, the blocks of young ice were grinding on Endurance, eventually breaking it up and sending crew and dogs on their way, even teams of men pulling the life boats. In April 1916, the team finally came to land at Elephant Island ending their trek across thin ice. The n Shackleton led a crew across 800 miles of ocean and ice back to South Georgia. Rescue of the men and dogs on Elephant Island finally occurred in August 1916.
Caroline Alexander has an amazing skill of blending diary detail and pictures to allow us readers to enjoy the optimism of the beginning, the agony of the shipwreck, the leadership of Shackleton, and the strength of character to endure the way forward. I felt as if I was on the journey, relieved at last to be on my way home with not a life lost! Simply Amazing!
Setting: the Antarctic and South Polar regions, 1914-1916
These guys give a whole new level to tough. Shackleton was amazing. I love this book too because it has many of the original photographs taken by Hurley,the expedition photographer. This one was a book club pick; otherwise, I don't know if I would have picked it up. I read another book, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Journey, a few years ago, and I didn't really plan on reading another book about the same subject. But I'm glad I picked this up. I think in some ways Lansing's book was better, but this one did a better job of telling what happened after the trip was over, and it had all the photos. I'm looking forward to the discussion. Very good. 4 stars