Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing
In 1914 Earnest Shackleton and a crew of 28 men left England on a discovery expedition, intending to cross the Antarctic continent with sled dogs. Their ship became trapped in pack ice, then slowly crushed and sunk by pressure of the moving ice. The men were left stranded, setting up camp on a thick ice floe and hoping for a chance to reach land. Their original plan was to use lifeboats to reach land where they could travel with the help of the dogs. But long before they escaped the ice they were forced to shoot the dogs, at first because of short supplies, and later simply to eat them. I'd heard of Shackleton's voyage before, but this is the first account I've read of it. I knew it was about an expedition that got stranded and made it back to civilization by trekking long miles and enduring extreme conditions, but for some reason I had in my head a picture of them trudging overland to their destination. In fact, they scrambled between ice floes in their small boats, seeking mostly shelter from the raging elements, often stuck on one floe for months at a time because pack ice gave them no escape. Some times they had plenty to eat when seals and penguins were nearby. Warm weather was a threat, not a boon, as it would melt the floe underneath them and half-melted floating pieces of ice made the water too dangerous to navigate. At other times they suffered terribly from starvation, fatigue, bitter cold, frostbite, etc. In the end (no spoiler as you know well some of them made it out alive; the book is based on and quotes from the crew members' diaries and the ship logs) they made it to a far-flung island which offered scant shelter, and Shackleton made a final desperate move to get by boat to the nearest whaling port, in South Georgia. Even when stretching the limits of exhaustion he made it there, they landed on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station, and had to climb over a glacier to finally reach help. This is without much food or proper gear of any kind.
Endurance is a compelling read. I thought the beginning a bit dull, as it goes into lots of detail on the characters of each of the men, but later you see how they respond differently to their situation, to being in close quarters with one another for years in harsh conditions, and it is amazing what they went through. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry, but I had tears in my eyes when I read the final pages, of Shackleton's reception at the whaling station. I did wish for a bit of a postscript, telling me how each of the men fared afterwards (how did Blackboro's feet fare?) but that's really a minor complaint. If you like adventure stories, be sure to look for this one!
Rating: 4/5 ...... 282 pages, 1959
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