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KatieMc

KatieMc

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SPOILER ALERT!

ice floes, blubber and reindeer sleeping bags, oh my!

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage - Alfred Lansing
Insomuch as a written account of a noted historical event can be spoiled, this review contains spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled, stop here and read the book. It's excellent.

So much is amazing about Ernest Shackleton's voyage to explore Antarctica and the misadventures that follow, but the most noteworthy one is that everyone survives. Think of it, 28 men spend nearly two years essentially camping on ice floes or drifting in 20-foot wooden lifeboats where the temperature rarely rise above freezing and no one dies. NO. ONE. DIES. What author of fiction would have the audacity to write that?

Actually, I should qualify the above to say that no human dies. Because the the expedition was supposed to be a trans-Antarctic, there were lots of dogs. More dogs than humans. And with so many dogs, there were also puppies!

Photo CreditFrank Hurley (1885–1962) - National Library of Australia - Tom Crean rears an Antarctic family, Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index...

There was also a cat named Mrs. Chippy

Photo Credit Frank Hurley -http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3818613.stm from Scott Polar Research Institute - Cambridge,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?...

Sadly, the four legged crew members took one for the team so to speak. What author of fiction would have the audacity to write that?

As is often the case with survival stories, there's lots of discussion of food. The expedition was well stocked, and rations were supplemented and eventually supplanted with what they could hunt. Seals and penguins feature prominently in their diet, with the occasional sea leopard. Protein and blubber, yum. This image may bring memories of the delightful children's book Mr. Popper's Penguins, but nope, cute penguins never made it back to England, but they did make it into something called hoosh.

Photo Credit Frank Hurley -http://www.coolantarctica.com/images/hudson.jpg, Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index...


Ironically, starvation was never a sustained threat to the crew of the Endurance. What was a threat was the sustained cold, wet and monotony. Monotony in their activity, their diet and the company they kept. And yet, they survived, and they functioned largely without despair or fear. At least that is how it's documented in this book. As you can see, there is a photographic record of the events and many of the men also kept diaries. The author interviewed many of the crew members and had firsthand accounts. I find myself wondering if the crew withheld any dark events or secrets for posterity (what happens on the ice floe stays on the ice floe). These events took place around 1915-1916 (think early Downton Abby seasons), an era that seems to be on the cusp between old timey-days and modern times.

So now that I have spoiled everything, why should you read this book? Because it is a case study in leadership and the will to survive. It's an amazing tale, yet as fiction it be ridiculed and rejected for its amazingly optimistic outcome. As non-fiction, it's compelling and hopeful. I was riveted.


2016 reading challenge checks the box for 36. A book about a road trip. Ok, that might be stretching it a bit, but if road trip = adventure, this is totally on the mark.