Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

From the publisher: “The harrowing tale of British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole, one of the greatest adventure stories of the modern age.

In August 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton boarded the Endurance became locked in an island of ice. Thus began the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men. When their ship was finally crushed between two ice floes, they attempted a near-impossible journey over 850 miles of the South Atlantic’s heaviest seas to the closest outpost of civilization.

In Endurance, the definitive account of Ernest Shackleton’s fateful trip, Alfred Lansing brilliantly narrates the harrowing and miraculous voyage that has defined heroism for the modern age.”

I just got done with astronaut Scott Kelly’s book Endurance (review can be found here) about his year on the International Space Station and he brought along Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (Amazon) (AbeBooks) as his one book to read during the duration. I’d only vaguely heard of Shackleton before that, mainly because of the Kenneth Branagh movie made many years ago, but never watched it.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (Amazon) (AbeBooks) was expertly done. Lansing interviewed many of the crew members and used the diaries kept by the men to piece together this fascinating story. Shackleton had the foresight (and media savvy) to encourage his men to keep a diary. Lansing weaves a story that never gets boring, not just because the lives of the men were in peril for almost two years!

The men spent almost a year shipwrecked and icebound before they had to leave the Endurance, which was sinking. Then they float on an ice pack for a couple more months. Finally, when the ice pack starts to break up is when the crew makes their move, using the wooden lifeboats they salvaged from the Endurance before she sank.

The crew makes their way to Elephant Island, but that’s not going to be enough to get rescued. Shelter is made with a couple of the lifeboats. Shackleton and his captain and a few other men take the biggest and best of the lifeboats, which had been improved by cannibalizing the other lifeboats, leaving the men on the island with no means of escape. Shackleton and the small crew have to travel 800 miles in the open sea, through the dangerous Drake Passage in an open wooden lifeboat, hoping to reach South Georgia. They have to make it there where there’s a whaling station, where they can get a rescue ship for the men left behind on Elephant Island.

Once they get to South Georgia, they land on the opposite side of the island. Shackleton takes one man and crosses the island on foot, knowing their vessel would not survive another 150 mile voyage around the island. They were running on virtually no sleep, and somehow managed to get to the whaling station. Attempts to rescue the men on Elephant Island were scuttled three times over the next few months because of ice, but finally, a vessel was able to make its way to the island to rescue the remaining men. By the time they got back to England, two years had passed since they had left.

Considering this book was first published in 1959, I wasn’t expecting pictures at all, but was pleasantly surprised. The pictures from the expedition are many and are included in this book, which I was happy to see.

There’s also a docudrama that you can stream on Amazon Prime Video called Shackleton’s Captain that is a good companion to the book. There’s also a documentary called Chasing Shackleton where a modern-day crew attempts to repeat Shackleton’s original voyage route. And of course, the aforementioned movie with the always-exceptional Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton (Amazon) (AbeBooks).

I’m so glad I bought this for my Kindle; I’ll definitely be revisiting this story in the years that come. This is one non-fiction tale that lives up to the hype.

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