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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly compelling and accomplished tale of astonishing endurance,
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This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)Another firm 5 stars for this book - an engrossing story told with narrative panache and wonderful attention to detail. I've now read most of the key texts about the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (a recent weird obsession), and this was the real standout for me, documenting one of the most incredible stories, and in the most satisfying way. This despite being a 'sideline' to the previously far more well-documented expeditionary stories of Scott and Shackleton. Perhaps part of its initial charm lies in being an underdogs' tale from the outset. But I also found it to offer some of the most thought-provoking insights into the whole subject of early polar expeditions (more on this later...); in fact, one of the most thought-provoking studies of human grit and endurance in any field.
Piecing together such a coherent, balanced and detailed historical recollective from very old and far-flung sources, whilst making it read more like a novel than a thesis, is an exceptional literary feat. The author is not afraid to add her own interpretive insights when this brings an important guiding hand of balance, but the story always feels personal to the Ross Sea Party's experiences, rather than a distant historical record.
[mild spoiler alert from this point; hopefully not gratuitous!].
Pacing is excellent throughout, from the chaotic set-up to the adventure (Shackleton's chaos, not the author's!) all the way to the 'what happened to the key players afterwards?' epilogues; the latter are very poignant - you come to really care for individuals' fates and wish them a long, easy life afterwards - not all got one.
Despite the almost unbearable hardships detailed (the poor dogs' miserable existences especially are enough to move a grown man to tears) it is oddly digestible. So don't be put off by an anticipated gruelling read, as i nearly was. With the author's deft introductions, you quickly come to care deeply about these people, and feel compelled to follow as their story unfolds. This, and a constantly human touch, gets the reader through the more harrowing parts - it's a real page turner to very end. Unlike Scott's famous expeditionary journal, this story doesn't have an inescapable sense of melancholic, impending doom hanging over the whole narrative; there is tragedy here, but also triumph and redemption of sorts. This book also tempers the hard facts of the Antarctic slog with a more revealing window into the motivations, personalities and interactions (including hearteningly familiar squabbling) of the expeditionary members; much of this human detail was airbrushed out in the sanitized, politically-cautious records of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen et al.
Whilst Shackleton only has a relatively minor direct role here, his reach from afar is palpable, shaping the story and, especially, informing the way the men responded when their expedition started to unravel. He must have been quite a man. But it also becomes clear from the unfolding evidence of his expeditionary preparations that he seems to have woefully underestimated the challenges of his proposed Antarctic crossing. This perhaps reflected the rushed timescales, as he was racing to get his expedition underway in the run up to seemingly inevitable war (which became WW1) before these events could sweep it aside. But never the less, he had made a number of almost laughably bad assumptions when planning the polar crossing, which seems bizarre given his two prior experiences on the continent (the first of which nearly killed him) and the cautionary tale of Scott just two years previously. There were just too many things that could go wrong and, yet again, absolutely no margin for error; even with everything else working in his favour, staying alive on the sledging diet was, alone, akin to Russian roulette, despite attempted improvements. Previously costly mistakes seem to have been destined to be repeated again and again (perhaps because there was simply no realistic way to respond otherwise to the challenges at the time, but perhaps not). The benefits of historical hindsight not withstanding, it seems particularly crazy to have intended to set out on a totally uncharted route to the pole whilst relying completely on the work of an inexperienced, poorly briefed and very under-resourced team coming towards him from the other side of the world (with whom he had no method of communicating, or knowing if they even arrived safely in Antarctica at all), to lay - in time and visibly - the depots upon which his subsequent survival would entirely depend. Neither was there time or a realistic contingency to allow retracing of steps. Even though the Ross Sea Party did succeed in fulfilling their support mission, in the face of incredible odds, from what i read in this book, it seems likely to me that, with all the other bad assumptions in the mix, had Shackleton actually initiated the crossing of the continent he would still have had a pretty small chance of succeeding. And considering that failure beyond a certain point of no return could only result in one thing, i now think it highly likely he would have died in the attempt, a grim repeat of Scott's Terra Nova polar expedition. And how differently he might have been remembered as a result. So in the end, perhaps his famous expeditionary misfortunes resulted in a doubly-lucky escape? This is not explicitly debated or concluded in the book, and so you might wonder why I am meandering into such speculation within a book review, but its relevant as I think the sheer precariousness of Shackleton's intended Antarctic crossing is a message that does emerge pretty strongly here, and not from other accounts; books covering the Weddell Sea Party's more famous tale don't cover this ground, because Shackleton's polar party didn't ever set foot on the continent; theoretical sledging logistics (and possible impending catastrophic failures of these), are therefore pushed aside.
In fact, after reading this book I wondered for the first time whether the whole concept of polar exploration, with the technological capabilities of the time, was actually just fundamentally foolhardy and idiotic, and not worth the extraordinary cost exacted on the supporting players (not least their poor, wretched beasts of burden). Perhaps they really should have left alone, or at least been much more cautious, tempering the astonishingly ambitious, grueling and primarily ego-driven, `record journey' attempts and concentrating on making steadier progress and pushing forward the scientific objectives. Although, as Shackleton himself noted, `without the Pole, there is no science' reflecting the realities of raising the necessary funds by promising expeditionary glories, set against more temperate and scholarly aims. But for the first time i feel like i have been given enough insight to make me ponder the reputation-making motives of the great polar explorers, and the ethics of their expeditions, a bit more soberly. Plenty of people voiced concerns in Shackleton's time, so perhaps this is not just retrospective judgement from the safety of comfortable modern armchair. The costs just seem to have been extraordinarily savage, and repeatedly, predictably so, in the face of ongoing questionable rewards.
I think there are deep truths and insights in all this too, equally applicable today, about the internal workings of the great risk-taking, charismatic entrepreneurs who are likely to find their way to the forefront of our species' ongoing great adventures, and what that might mean for the people who support and enable them. Challenging stuff then if you want to ruminate.
After reading this book, every time i think i'm having a bad time or facing tough challenges, i only need to cast my mind back to the vivid pictures painted about the Ross Sea Party's trials to very promptly re-evaluate my own easy existence and its minor irritations. Awesome, humbling stuff.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, well written and recommeded...,
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This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)A vivid and compelling account of an all but forgotten event in Antarctic history, Kelly Tyler-Lewis tells the harrowing story of the Ross Sea party's irrevocable determination to lay food depots for Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic Expedition at any cost. Having lost their ship, the Ross Sea Party find themselves scavenging for food and supplies before embarking on the most cruel and gruelling depot journey ever undertaken in Antarctic history.
Though such dedication to their leader came at a heavy price in the death of Arnold Spencer-Smith, the most tragic irony comes after the depot laying has finished when Aeneas Macintosh and Victor Hayward walk to their death.
The book is incredibly well researched and extremely well written and I guarantee the reader will find it an absorbing and thrilling read.
If you like true, adventurous, passionate stories that give a frank and honest account of the characters and events, written in a style not entirely unlike a thrilling novel, then I have no hesitation in highly recommending this book.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of endurance and human fortitude,
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, gripping read,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping,
The whole expedition was woefully disorganised, poorly-planned, under-funded and under-resourced. It demonstrates a kind of very British amateurism allied with enormous bravery, personal sacrifice, fortitude and perseverance in the face of huge difficulties. People chosen to participate in the expedition often had no polar experience and once on the ground the same applied at times to what would be called team leaders in modern parlance who lacked any appropriate experience even when others in the party did have the necessary skills. Much of this seems to have been based on social rank: "Mackintosh believed it was only proper to put an Oxbridge graduate in charge of a party" - even though the "Oxbridge graduate" was completely inexperienced. The book is good at showing the tensions, the differing perspectives of the team and their personal rivalries, drawn from diaries, notes, books and other documents but the author is even-handed and just lays out facts for the reader to form his or her own view.
Though the story is very interesting, the quality of the writing at times leaves something to be desired, particularly in the first third of the book. One slight irritation, but forgivable and easy to ignore, is that the author is American and even though this edition has been released by a UK publisher, it has not been edited for British English. At times I found the narrative a little confusing, e.g. it wasn't clear on a couple of occasions which of two individuals was saying what so I turned to the notes and index to clarify or check things. The index was occasionally inaccurate and the note format somewhat idiosyncratic (it does not follow the usual convention of being numbered so you go to the notes and find that there are maybe ten entries for that page and you have to read through them all to find the information you are looking for). I suspect that most people won't care about this but I am one of those sad people who does make use of notes when they are provided!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning story,
This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)Here's the power of Amazon recommendations...... I thought myself reasonably well-educated concerning the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and I'd read quite a few books featuring Shackleton's Transantarctic Expedition. However, I'd never come across this part of it at all until it popped up in the "others also read..." bit. It's obvious really that any team intending to cross the continent might need to find food depots on the other side. This is the story of the team that was there to lay them. And what a story.
The disorganization, personal frictions, dubious planning, bad luck, but above all pure, unadulterated heroism that went into this part of the expedition is conveyed with fine economy by the author. It turns into something really quite gripping and I read through it very much quicker than I expected to. It gives the impression of being well-researched. According to the author's account, many of the primary sources had disappeared into prvate family archives but she did a diligent job in tracking them all down. The references are all scrupulously documented at the end of the book.
Another reviewer has commented on the Epilogue pieces giving potted biographies of the various key personalities in this story, and that you really come to care about them. It's clear that many of them were perhaps not really cut out for expeditions like this, but they can all be forgiven for such failings as they may have had. After all, the number of people with Antarctic experience at the time of their departure was probably not enough to fill a bus. A combination of experience and improvisation was always going to be necessary, and this team certainly had to do lots of the former.
If you have an interest in this era of Antarctic exploration and haven't yet read this book, then you absolutely definitely must do so. And then, probably, go and read it all again, just like I'm going to do now.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Really Gripping Read,
In this modern world of instant global communication, satellite imaging and scientific advances in nutrition, expedition training, clothing and so forth it is almost unbelievable how naive, poorly prepared and under equipped these men were. Yet they carried out their duties with a will that defies explanation. They were certainly made of strerner stuff in those days. Their story is also truly heroic and I enjoyed it enormously. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Polar exploration or to anyone who likes a good adventure story. It is very well researched and well written and I congratulate the author on telling a story that deserves to be told.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, well-written. A cracking read!,
This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)I read Lenard Bickel's version of this story, and was left with the feeling that more needed to be said - and better. I was right. Tyler-Lewis expands on all the things that Bickel should have but didn't, and with a far less irritating writing style. Where Bickel tries to demonise some people, Tyler-Lewis sympathetically paints backrground pictures and lets the reader make a decision. Where Bickel almost apportions blame, Tyler-Lewis only deals in the facts available - impassionately, and in detail, so that we can make up our minds. This is definitely one for my dog-eared, read-again collection. I'll bin the other one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could'nt put it down!,
This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)I got this book as a birthday present and from the moment I started reading it I just had to keep on reading! Comes with amazing photographs of the men and their dogs that gives you that real sense of involvement in the story. These men almost have a more interesting story to tell than shackleton himself! Thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This story has been told before....,
This review is from: The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Paperback)...by Lionel Bicknel, in SHACKLETON'S FORGOTTEN MEN. But Bicknel did not have available the first hand Ross party diaries which Tyler-Lewis unearthed in his travels. Nor the long lost film which T-L uncovered. That alone makes this book (The Lost Men) the better one.
I have read many polar exploration books, one of my favorite subjects. There is none which I enjoyed better than this one.
2) Next is 'In the Land of the White Death' by Albanov. Albanov's amazing escape trek from the Brusilove expedition whose ship froze in the Northwest Passage (actually two survived). Nobody would have believed such a wild tale except they had to because he came back alive while those who remained on board perished.
3) And 'Weird and Tragic Shores" which is Loomis' bio of the life of Charles Francis Hall of which the NY Times wrote: "Loomis conjures flesh and blood from the flimsy old journals and lifts the story from the pincers of the pack ice into the warm, fathomless and infinitely more thrilling realm of the human spirit".
4) Which book (a biography) was found in more American homes in the years right after the civil war (except for the Bible of course). The one of arctic explorer Charles Francis Kane. Not Lincoln, Lee, or Grant! (Source: Loomis' book about Hall).
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The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party by Kelly Tyler-Lewis (Paperback - 3 Sep 2007)