Book Review - Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
I have this strange attraction to books that revolve around survival in inclement weather conditions. Books like In Thin Air both fascinate and unnerve me, in that I can't figure out *why* someone would want to go through that potential experience. But all those mountain climbing books pale in comparison to the incredible story of Ernest Shackleton's expedition to cross the Antarctic on foot. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing takes you along on a two year journey that captures man's will to survive in conditions that are unimaginable.
Shackleton started out from England in August of 1914 with a ship laden with the supplies they'd need to make it to the South Pole. From there, they would use supplies stored by another ship in preparation for the rest of the trip to the other side of the continent. Tragically, they never even made it to the coast to start their expedition. January 1915 found them stranded in pack ice, with no way to free the ship to continue or escape. The ship became their home for the next 10 months as they wintered through the dark Antarctic nights, ever vigilant for potential escape or danger from their ice floe breaking up. The extreme pressure of the ice pack finally won out, and the Endurance was crushed and sunk. This left the 28 men stranded with three smaller boats, dwindling supplies, and little hope of long-term survival.
The breaking up of the ice pack forced the group to launch the boats to make an attempt to reach an inhabited portion of land in order to be rescued. But even that didn't go as planned, as the weather and seas conspired to push them away from the more probable points of rescue, finally stranding them on a small sliver of land known as Elephant's Island. Again enduring harsh weather, the decision was made to send a small group out on the last seaworthy boat to make an 800 mile journey to the nearest whaling station. Shackleford pushed off, knowing that his own survival chances were slim, much less those of the group that was being left behind on the island. But against all odds, they were able to make it to South Georgia, cross a number of inhospitable mountains, and arrive at a whaling station... four very grimy, tired, and left-for-dead individuals. Even more surprising, they were able to secure a ship, head back to their shipmates and rescue *all* of them. No one was lost on a two year ordeal that should have killed them all.
I was amazed at what Shackleton and his crew were able to do in order to survive. Nearly a century later, with technology and gear that would be unthinkable back then, I'm not sure you would be able to put 28 people in the same situation and have them survive. What they did could be considered miraculous. I was even more struck about how far we've come in terms of transportation and communications since then. There were no search parties to send out, nor could you radio for help. The fact that you hadn't shown up anywhere in over a year was proof enough that you had been lost at sea, and your story would never be told unless some explorer came across your remains years later.
This would be a really good book if it were a fictional adventure novel, although we'd say it was a bit over the top and not very realistic. The fact that it was a *real* story just makes it all the more incredible. Great read...