Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – Alfred Lansing
The astonishing saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas, as Time magazine put it, "defined heroism." Alfred Lansing's scrupulously researched book has long been acknowledged as the definitive account of the Endurance's fateful trip. To write their authoritative story, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving members and gained access to diaries and personal accounts by eight others. The resulting book has all the immediacy of a first-hand account.
Review: When I was a kid, I went through a multi-year phase where I was obsessed with all things polar. I think I was attracted to the idea that there are places on Earth where humans have never stepped. Picture books about explorers and cold-weather animals satisfied most of my polar curiosity, but if someone had read me a copy of Endurance, I would’ve loved them forever. This is a very “Me” book.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, tells the story of Ernest Shackleton's attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica in the early 1900s. Reaching Antarctica was so perilous that he didn’t even make it to the land. His ship was crushed by sea ice. Shackleton and his 27-man crew spent the next 17 months in the ocean, working their way across floating ice chunks in search of help.
“In that instant they felt an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. Though they had failed dismally even to come close to the expedition's original objective, they knew now that somehow they had done much, much more than ever they set out to do.” - Endurance
This book was first published in 1959 and is a must-read for anyone interested in exploration. The author conducted extensive interviews with the surviving members of Shackleton's crew. He also had access to the journals kept by the crew. His research was thorough.
Even though I already knew the story of Shackleton's voyage, I couldn’t put this book down. I read most of it in one night because there’s so much tension. I wanted to know what happened next (even though I mostly already knew what happened next. Isn’t that weird?). The writing style is a bit dryer than I usually like. There are a few too many tedious details about boats and wind speeds, but that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book. I loved it.
This story is a testament to human courage and human stupidity. Shackleton and his men were able to overcome every obstacle, but I can’t help thinking that the whole voyage was kinda really stupid. Shackleton wanted to be the first to cross Antarctica, but everything in Antarctica can kill you. You can starve, dehydrate, freeze, drown, get crushed by ice, get infections, slide off cliffs, fall into crevasses, get killed by the wildlife, go insane. Crossing Antarctica doesn’t seem worth it to me. I guess the world needs leaders like Shackleton, though. They manage to get stuff done when the odds are against them.
“In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age—no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.” - Endurance
Fun Facts About Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
1. The men on the voyage got along well and were rarely pessimistic about their situation. This is surprising because Shackleton was not a thorough interviewer. When he was interviewing potential candidates for the voyage, he spent less than five minutes talking to each person. He relied on instinct to pick his crew.
“No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.” - Endurance
2. There was a stowaway on the ship. The stowaway wasn’t discovered until the ship was too close to Antarctica to turn back. Shackleton was furious. He said that if the voyage went wrong and the crew had to resort to cannibalism, the stowaway would be eaten first.
3. To help them cross Antarctica, the crew brought 70 sled dogs. Seventy sled dogs require A LOT of food, and ships have a limited amount of space. The crew ended up tying the dog food (an entire whale carcass) high above the deck of the ship. The carcass rained blood down on the men and drove the dogs crazy. Dogs get excited when a delicious dead whale is floating above their heads.
4. The men kept themselves sane through the long Antarctic winter by hunting, racing the dogs, reading aloud, playing cards, singing, writing, telling stories, and putting on plays.
5. An all-meat diet is terrible for humans. Once the food the crew brought with them ran out, they survived on seal and penguin meat. The men were either constipated or had diarrhea all the time.
6. Eventually, the food situation got so desperate that the men ate the sled dogs. According to the men, dog meat tastes like veal.