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Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic Paperback – 3 Jul 2003
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Adventure, shipwreck, storms and survival on the high seas.
About the Author
Alfred Lansing was a native of Chicago. After serving more than five years in the Navy, he enrolled at North Western University, Illinois and majored in journalism. Until 1949 he edited a weekly newspaper in Illinois. He then joined the United Press and in 1952 became a freelance writer. Endurance was his first book. He died in 1975.
Frank Hurley was an Australian photographer. From 1911-14 he accompanied Douglas Mawson on his Australasian Antarctic Expedition and was one of the party that sledged to the South Pole. On his return he was recruited for Shackleton's trans-Antarctic expedition. He died in Sydney in 1962 at the age of 71.
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It's an amazing story of human endurance and spirit against seemingly overwhelming odds - well written and very detailed by an author who as well as using the diaries of the participants, actually interviewed some of the surviving ones some years after the event. As a result, you can see its authenticity.
I've also recently watched (available on C4 'All 4' or whatever it calls itself) the two part dramatisation of this story and I recommend it.
I read this book on the back of a few extremely enthusiastic recommendations. Initially I wasn't so keen. I knew little of Shackleton and his story, plus recreations of real events tend to leave me cold. In my experience they can seem little more than long lists of stuff that happened. `So we went there, then we did this, then this happened, so he did that and I did this' etc etc. I'm not saying that there are not moments like this in Endurance, it's just that the events themselves are so awe inspiring, the stakes so high and the odds so stacked that in the words of my friend, `the book infects your mind'. It's as though every time you put the book down you've left the men stranded and the only way to get them out is to read and to keep reading. I was up late the night I finished it and even then it took 30 minutes of staring at the ceiling to shake the effect of the final few chapters.
The author Alfred Lansing, as well creating an important historical account, has written a real page turner by pairing the story down to just what is necessary to tell the tale. I have read reviews which bemoan the lack of context as a missed opportunity, that the events would have more weight if they were contrasted with the war in Europe and the sufferings of the young men in the fields of France. For me this would have dampened the profound feeling of isolation which was perhaps the most affecting aspect of the story. The men spent months marooned, camping on ice. They sailed in tiny boats at the mercy of the elements in the most hostile seas on the planet. All the while knowing nothing of the outside world and dealing constantly with the knowledge that nobody, not a single soul, knew where they were or that they were even alive. I get anxious if I misplace my iPhone. To Shackleton and his men there was no context save for the ice, the sea and their survival. Anything else would have only served to distract, to muddy the focus of events which need no embellishment. The author does allow himself some moments of florid prose but it's always just enough, never over the top and always justified.
I've chosen to give this book five stars for the simple reason that any other rating would require me to suggest improvements and I cannot. It is an incredible story told with clarity and an authority which comes from unprecedented access to the survivors and their diaries. It's a real and important achievement, a testament to those involved and a startling reality check for everybody in our mollycoddled society, the reading of which, if I had any say in the matter, would be mandatory.
This book, written with access to all the relevant papers and diaries and when some of the veterans were still with us, tells the story in detail, all the more effective in dragging us into their world. Amazing stuff.
The only slight negative is the absence of photos - I know some were taken. Perhaps they were in the hardback version.
This superbly written account, written in 1959 and relying heavily on the accounts of those who were there, makes clear the resilience and inventiveness which were required to survive. That all of the shipwrecked did so, depute having to drift on ice flows through the poplar winter, and making remarkable open boat sea crossings to reach land and eventual safety almost a year later, is clear testament to the endurance of the human spirit in the face of almost overwhelming adversity.
This is a great read with an uplifting outcome
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