South is Ernest Shackleton's much praised report from his second expedition to the South Pole. The plan was to sail to the Weddell sea and march across the land mass of Antartica via the pole to the opposite side where another ship would collect the men and bring them home.
Naturally nothing went right. Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, was trapped in pack ice which sealed her in and eventually crushed her. Abandoning the ship, and unable to reach the continental land mass itself, Shackleton led his men from ice floe to ice floe, setting up camps and abandoning them when the floes broke in two (as they frequently did) eventually ending up on a tiny, unexplored island with only three ships boats to provide shelter and living off the scarce resources of an inhospitible land.
In simply the bravest move I have ever heard about, Shackleton decided that to reach help he had to sail across the southern Atlantic in a tiny open rowing boat to the island of South Georgia - over three hundred miles away. Once there and safely landed he then had to march across the desolate island to reach the whaling communities on the far side - something that had been thought of as impossible.
South made Shackleton's name as an explorer - and you can see why. The story is staggering - even more impressive when you consider that only one of Shacklton's party perished in their two year stay on the ice.
If I have any criticisms it is that lack of any review or explanation of the book by an editor. Penguin Classics, their reprinting of the works of the Classical writers, are all prefaced by an editor who provides much of the back story and explanations of the times in which the books were written. I felt a little lost, my knowledge of the start of the century being more than a little vague, and many of the terms used in the book particularly in reference to the food they ate are now obscure and could have done with a simple footnote to explain.
As a piece of first-person historical evidence, Endurance is faultless. It is also a cracking read, showing Shackleton's gift as a writer. It is, however, a report, and towards the end of the book where lists of provisions and descriptions of Antartic bases occur means the book peters out instead of a really solid ending.
However these gripes are small. I wish the publishers would do this great book justice with a nice editorial and some term explanations. Hopefully for the next issue :)