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23 June 2016

REVIEW: "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" -- Man versus nature

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shackleton's doomed voyage―an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent―pretty much can't be described in any other way than "incredible." The preface to the book tells us two remarkable facts: first, that what Shackleton and his expedition were attempting to do would not actually be accomplished until the 1950s, with the full gauntlet of modern machines and electric heat; and second, that no human being died or even suffered grievous physical injury over the course of the entire ordeal.

Then we dive in to the narrative itself, and as soon as the Endurance becomes ironically trapped and crushed by ice floes, it's just one damn thing after another. Even having been assured by the preface that everyone survives, you swear up and down, even shout aloud, "No! Someone's going to die! Nobody can survive that!" Reading what the expeditionary force endured: dragging hundreds of pounds of gear and lifeboats over actively shifting ice, dodging leopard-seal attacks, crossing the objectively worst span of ocean for storms in lifeboats not built for the high seas, an overland journey to a whaling station that modern mountaineers have refused to attempt for fear of death...

And nobody dies. I think a couple of the crew get frostbite.

Lansing pulls together a lot of primary source material, because all the crewmen kept diaries (of course they did!) and didn't ever throw them away. The Audible version really makes the story pop, as narrator Simon Prebble gives each crewman a voice. Of course, feeling a sense of connection with the characters only increases one's anxiety that surely one will perish eventually.

Oh, and when they do return to England, World War I is still on, and a good proportion of the crew go on to enlist in the armed forces for King and country. Because why not? "Back when men were men," and all that.

I'd recommend this book to anyone. It's that engrossing.

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