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Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, an expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton set out to conquer the continent of Antarctica in the name of Great Britain. The team planned to become the first men to cross the continent after failing a few years earlier to beat the Norwegians to the South Pole. However, halfway through the trip across Antarctica, the ship Endurance was trapped in the ice. Despite the best efforts of Shackleton and his men, the ship could not be freed, and it was eventually crushed by the ice. This left the British expedition in the middle of the icy continent, with glaciers, mountains and some the most dangerous stretches of ocean between themselves and civilization. But through determination and the leadership of the indefatigable Shackleton, all nearly all members of the crew were eventually saved and brought back to England.

Alfred Lansing's account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was originally published in 1959. At the time, Lansing had been given access to the private diaries of nearly every member of the crew and he was able to interview all of the men still living. Although Shackleton himself had died more than thirty years before, he had written his own book about the voyage, and that was available to Lansing as well.

If you're a fan of animals, you do not want to read this. Throughout the book, a defenseless kitty, trusting dogs, and dozens of cute little seals are killed to sustain the exploration party. I understand that the deaths were necessary – if the animals hadn't been eaten, the party would have died within a few days of the Endurance's destruction – but I think that for people who can't imagine life without a puppy at their side, it's just going to be too traumatic to read.

It's a horrible story. By this I mean that for every small victory in the voyage, it seemed like a dozen bad things rained down on the men. A part of me wants to say, “Well, you went off into a frozen wasteland, where no man was ever meant to live – that's insane! If you end up dead, you deserve it!” But the fact that the men don't succumb to the elements, but make their way back to civilization in spite of a terrain determined to kill them amazes me.

As one of the men Lansing interviewed said,"For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton." Reading how the men dsurvived, and how close they came to perishing again and again was simply mind-boggling. It makes Lansing's account of the expedition nearly impossible to stop listening to. (I was playing the audio version of the book during my commuter drives.) Although the accounts seemed repetitious at times – what with the constant seal-hunting and frostbitten appendages – this book is just as fascinating as it was when first published in the 1950s.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Endurance, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir
2010: 10 DIY Projects for Old Books
2009: Random Ranting: Why is it so hard to find a good place to read?
2008: The Fire and the Light by Glen Craney


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