01 November 2004

Book Review: Endurance, by Alfred Lansing, *****

Endurance in its death throes

In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set sail for the South Atlantic on board the Endurance. The object of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic overland. In October 1915, still half a continent away from their intended base, the ship was trapped, then crushed in ice. For seventeen months Shackleton and his men, drifting on ice packs and then on the stormiest seas on the globe, were castaways in this most savage region of the world.

Lansing's gripping narrative, based on firsthand accounts of crew members and interviews with survivors, vividly describes how the men lived together in camps on the ice until they reached land, how they were attacked by sea leopards, ate sea lion and polar bear, developed frostbite (an operation to amputate the foot of one member of the crew was carried out on the ice), and finally embarked on a 850-mile voyage in a 22-foot open lifeboat to find help.

Ernest Shackleton

So much has been already said about Shakleton it would be preseumptuous of me to try to add anything. This book does justice to a great leader. Yes he made mistakes, and might have misjudged his goal to begin with. But Shakleton was unsurpassable when it came to leadership. Having given up on his initial goal because of force majeure, he displayed unparalleled cold blood, sound judgement and navigational skills in taking his whole crew back home alive.

Lansing's prose is fascinating, he takes the reader right onto the ship, and then in the midst of the crew for the trek across Antarctica. This book is history but reads like a thriller.

It is amazing that such heroic feat was accomplished in the face of defeat: Shakleton had set out to cross the Antarctic continent, the last major polar expedition waiting to be completed after Peary had conquered the North Pole in 1909 and Amundsen had reached the South Pole in 1911. Crossing the continent would have been an even greater journey. In that, Shakleton failed, but in defeat he became a legend.

La traduzione italiana è disponibile qui:

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