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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Three, in which we seek Winter Recreation

Much of the northern hemisphere is now firmly in the grip of winter. Though the days are already getting longer, the earth is only beginning to receive the additional warmth, due to its distance from the sun. Moscow has been enjoying record cold temperatures--perhaps someone who fears artificial global warming can explain? Your Bibliothecary recommends one go south, where summer is in full swing, below the Antarctic circle, for the most incredible adventure in the history of polar exploration.
"...when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), was one of the most prolific explorers in the great age of polar discovery. He accompanied Robert Falcon Scott in 1901-03, and supervised his own excursion to the icy continent on the Nimrod in 1907-09. At the start of the First World War, he embarked on the most ambitious expedition ever: to cross the uncharted Antarctica, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, on foot.

Shackleton had already proven himself to be a strong leader of moral courage dedicated to his men. No one could have known he would fail to accomplish his goals, and seize the opportunity to prove his greatness. Still, when he advertised for volunteers to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, nearly five thousand men applied to experience "small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, [and] safe return doubtful."* What happens is amazing and spectacular, far exceeding the promised hazards.

The tragedies and triumphs in this story leave us in awe. Though America had little involvement in the great era of polar exploration, and we had heard nothing of Shackleton's adventure until recently, there is a good deal of material available chronicling the story. Select a book from the list that follows, and be prepared to want more. The films, as well, are not to be missed.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander was our first exposure to this story, and it provides a wonderful introduction. A compelling narrative coupled with astonishing photographs from the expedition pull the reader in to an epic struggle for survival. Each crew member is given mention, and much information is culled from private diaries and memoirs. This story does the modern Hollywood adventure movie better, as with every page danger increases, hope diminishes, and the fight for life becomes ever more heroic--and it's all true.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, by Jennifer Armstrong was published two years earlier, and is a slightly less substantial account. Though much of the information is the same in both books, Alexander does a better job at presenting the facts and engaging the reader.

South: The Endurance Expedition is the first-hand account of the entire expedition by Ernest Shackleton. Our NAL reprint of the original Heinemann publication contains far fewer photographs than the other two books mentioned. It is full of details and not quite as compelling, as the hardships and dangers are dampened by the continual recording of sea and weather conditions. It is heavy on facts and data, and disappointing in that it offers little insight into Shackleton's personal thoughts and emotions. On the other hand, this goes to show how little Shackleton sought glory for himself, as many of the toughest problems he dealt with, such as near mutiny, as recounted in the other books are omitted from his telling. At the same time he also reveals little about the other members of the party. He does, however, provide a thorough account (nearly a third of the book) of the Ross Sea party, which to him was an equally important and treacherous part of the epedition, but is merely glossed over by the other books.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing was published in 1959. We have just begun to read this. It has a handful of photographs and sketches, and has the form of a novel-like approach to the subject, whereas the first two books are glossy productions, and the other is pure memoir/journal.

"Shackleton" (2002) starring Kenneth Branaugh is a faithful and stunning recreation of the Endurance expedition.
"Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure: IMAX" (2001) mixes original and recent footage to tell the story in grand splendour.
"The Endurance" (2000) is another documentary with original footage and interviews with family of crew members.
"South" (1919) is a silent documentary comprised solely of Frank Hurley's film and still photographs, and a few of George Marston's sketches, from the expedition.

Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
Ernest Shackleton
The James Caird Society

*Also check out Antarctic-Circle.org for commentary on the advertisement for volunteers, as well as directions to a wealth of related material.


  1. Is the photo from this book; The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander , if so, do you have it in stock? This sounds like a fantastic read and it goes right along with my curriculum this month.

  2. This photograph is included in several of the books mentioned. These books are all part of a private collection, and we do not have them for sale. Even if are not interested in the story, many of the photographs are absolutely stunning.

  3. Thanks, I thought the photograph was indeed stunning and the story sounds fascinating. I wanted to give you the sale first, but I have found the books at a chain store, can't wait to get them. Thanks for the reccomends!