on February 9, 2000
This is an absolutely amazing and true accounting of the 1914 Antarctic expedition gone to hell. It is clear that the author did an incredible amount of research, and though this book doesn't read like a novel, its presentation is much more powerful this way, giving a panoramic view of the whole terrible and desperate situation of these men.
I don't have any experience even comparable to what these men went through, the closest I've ever come is rowing down the coast of Maine in the summer in a 30 foot pulling boat, and I'll tell you, this guy gets every detail.
Anyway, an absolutely incredible look at human endurance, at what a person will go through if he must. I definitely recommend this book to everyone.
One note...make sure the version you buy or get at the library has expedition photographer Hurley's photographs in it. Some paperback editions don't, and you're really missing part of the experience without them.
on January 6, 2014
Within the genre of real life adventure books, Endurance is definitely a stand out. I am lucky to have a brother who regularly reads about explorers and wilderness adventures and recommends to me only the best of the best. Other must-reads in the genre are The Long Walk (though that turns out to be most likely fiction so I no longer recommend it), Into the Wild, and Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North. Endurance tells the true story of Ernest Shakleton and his crew's ill-fated and legendary expedition to Antarctica. It was likely one of history's best outcomes for what was essentially a disaster.
At the time of launching, Shakleton's expedition was history's most extensively planned exploratory trip to Antarctic, complete with a photographer, scientists, carpenters and engineers (a crew of 27 in total). Shakleton's goal was to transverse and study Antarctic. When they set off in 1914, this expedition was the pride of the United Kingdom. Shakleton was the toast of the town for his bravery and expertise. For his bravery he is still toasted, but his polar expertise proved to be lacking. The ship he guided was no match for the South Pole's crushing cold and ice. Soon after arriving, the Endurance was stuck in ice, absolutely unable to move. The crew salvaged what it could and was forced to make do with dwindling supplies and provisions, eventually eating some of their beloved dogs.
I won't dampen your reading pleasure by giving away too much of the unfolding events, but through a combination of amazing resourcefulness, outstanding leadership, and ultimately incredible luck on the part of Shakleton, the whole crew survived without a single life lost. Naturally, there was an abundance of suffering along the way, but also an impressive amount of team spirit and toughness. The book is inspirational and a quiet page turner.
Please note, the "quiet page turner" part. Endurance is definitely an engrossing read, and once you get into it, you won't want to put it down. I found the book starts a bit on the slow side, at least for all its fanfare, but don't give up if you aren't immediately bowled over. You'll be justly rewarded if you stick with it.
on August 13, 2002
This book is one of the few exceptional -absolutely execptional- tales of survival and it proves the maxim that nothing is so bad that it can't get worse. But also it proves that you can know the end of a story - it is a well known fact that Shackleton brought all his men through this arduous trial and all survived - and it doesn't spoil the story at all. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but it is a good deal harder.
The bare-bones of the story are that Shackleton and his team left civillisation in 1914 in the Endurance to travel to attempt to reach the South Pole - a trip he had tried and failed by only a couple of hundred miles or so to achive in 1908. Amundsen had already reached the pole first but for Shackleton it was unfinished business. The Endurance had been built to push through the pack ice, but conditions proved too much and it was trapped in pack ice. Summer wore on and there was no escape - the winds were in the wrong direction - then winter hit and they were trapped in their boat. They settled in to a routine until the ice went against them and cracked the Endurance. Shackleton realised the only way out was on their own, so they abandoned the boat and made for the pack ice at first dragging the boats, then relying a floe to carry them north where they might find more supplies, or be rescued.
In the end they had to rescue themselves and this is the story of their indomitable courage and strength to survive under incredibly harsh conditions and in grave discomfort. We are talking about camping out in antartica - in less than adequate shelter, with essentially starvation rations, no heating, barely adequate clothing.
Lansing tells this story in a sparing style and it really works. He has had access to (I think) all the diaries available from men who kept them on the trip and they are very revealing of both personalities and foibles of the various characters who made up the trip - and these aren't all a bunch of saintly characters pulling together for the sake of their team and mutual survival - they fight, some are occassionally selfish, they love their dogs but have almost no compunction of putting them down when they have to - and they are very real and human.
Lansing also brings to light some of the things you wouldn't think about it - the incredible boredom that they all felt, that they were generally alternatvely wracked by either gripping hunger or desparate need for survival and how to escape - the one emotion replacing the other depending on conditions. He also explains some of the things you wouldn't even think to ask - how they went to the toilet for instance, the conditions inside the huts and the tents and so on. It brings a very vivd picture of life as it must have been for the group.
And really, nothing isn't so bad that it can't get worse. Each time you think that Shackleton is about to win there is a small disaster, or the elements go against them - they are constantly battling for their lives with decreasing odds of their survival. Even once they make it off the floe and onto land they have to move again to a safer landing place - and then they must work out how to get help. The nearest land is Chile some 500 miles away but it is almost impossible to get to because of wind and current, so they must try to South Georgia, over 800 miles away and a tiny speck of an island 25 miles across and they only thing in their way between Antartica and South Africa. Hardly an easy thing find in an open 22 foot boat. I know recently they tried to re-enact the voyage of Shackleton in his tiny boat - the James Caird - but without success as storms forced them to abandon the attempt. And that was a luxury trip compared to Shackleton's - the conditions on board were appalling - with stones for ballast - very little room and the ever present rotting reindeer hair from their sleeping bags. It is all credit to their navigator Frank Worsley that they reached South Georgia at all....but then they had had to land on the wrong side of the island due to conditions......but read the book - definitely read it.....
This book would make a great adventure book to introduce Antarctic exploration for younger children or teenagers as it is so vivid and so exciting. They are chased by killer whales and leopard seals, they are constantly fighting the elements and they are if nothing else a very human group of people. This is one of the best books of survival I have ever read and is highly recommended.
on November 26, 2001
I first became interested in Shackleton's incredible story after seeing photos and a short version of Caroline Alexander's book in the National Geographic a couple of years ago. Since then, I've read and reread Lansing's account, as well as Alexander's, and twice seen the new Butler documentary which incorporates the photos and early film of the expedition's photographer, Frank Hurley.
This is quite simply one of the most amazing stories I've ever read. Survival in the face of incredible hardship. Astonishing bravery, persistence, and resourcefulness, all in the face of unimaginable bad luck. This story should have ended in death at least five times. Instead, after 16 (or 20, depending on who you're counting for) months marooned in the antarctic circle, not a single member of Shackleton's crew was lost.
Lansing's account is creditable and more interesting than Alexander's, though her book has the better pictures. I'd suggest buying both.
on October 31, 2014
Reading this book, I found I was looking for ice floes while driving down the street to the grocery. At the grocery, I considered food that could be preserved for a year. I was even looking strangely at my dog, and I love my dog.
Endurance was one of the best books I've ever read.
on August 13, 2000
Everything that defines courage and leadership for our age and any other is within the 280 pages of this wonderful book. For nearly two years, in conditions of constant zero and below cold, freezing wet, and often hunger, Ernest Shackleton kept all 27 men who sailed with him on the Endurance alive to eventually return to the England they left on the verge of World War I. That single-minded devotion to his men should make this book required reading for every would-be politician and corporate executive before he dares ask for the faith, trust and respect of those he would lead.
Lansing dedicated the book "In appreciation for whatever it is that makes men accomplish the impossible." He wisely and without flourish often lets the men's own words -- through the journals that many of them kept at the time and in interviews forty years later -- tell their extraordinary story, each stage of which reads more harrowing than the last. On an expedition that would have attempted to cross the Antarctic on foot (a feat not accomplished until four decades later), the Endurance is trapped in pack ice before it can reach shore. Shackleton's perhaps foolhardy original goal thus turns to keeping his men alive until they can be rescued. After ten months locked in the drifting pack, the Endurance is crushed and the men forced to abandon her for an ice floe, then several weeks later a smaller floe still. Eventually they take to three boats to reach forlorn Elephant Island from which Shackleton takes a skeleton crew of five and in a 22 foot open boat navigates the enormous seas of Drake's Passage to South Ascension Island. Once there he only (only!) has uncharted glaciers to cross to reach the whaling station on the other side of the island from which rescue of the Elephant Island castaways is eventually launched. The only other crossing of South Georgian Island by foot at the time Lansing wrote in 1959 occurred on a "easier" route with equipment and time. Shackleton had neither, only a fifty foot piece of rope, a carpenter's adze, and the knowledge that to stop moving was to invite death by freezing. At journey's end, to the astonished manager of the whaling factory, he says simply, "My name is Shackleton." I would have liked to have known him and all his men.
on September 18, 2000
Whew!! That's the first word that comes to my mind. It surfaced in my thoughts numerous times as I was reading this tale. This book is overwhelming. I had always heard tales about Shackleton and this was a most compelling read. I found myself unable to put it down. It just grabs a hold of you and won't let go. Alfred Lansing did a superb job of storytelling here. It is one of the most amazing tales of human courage and endurance ever written. This is a fabulous story. Sir Ernest Shackleton truly displayed extraordinary mettle in spite failing to achieve the initial objective. His leadership is undeniable. He held a crew together to endure the harshest climate on the planet. That the entire crew survived the venture is testament to the power of the human spirit. The will to survive can attain soaring heights as this tale suggests. Lansing attempts to get into the nature of the different men but he allows their diaries to dictate the writing. This is great because supposition by authors of nonfiction can be fatuous. Drawing excerpts from the diaries of the men is a way to draw upon the incredible human drama and psychology that must have unfolded in this venture. The obstacles encountered by the crew are staggering. The wind, the dampness, the bitter cold and the long months of darkness in the winter seem like more than any man should be able to stand. They slept in wet sleeping bags in sub-freezing temperature; ate unappetizing foods; and still managed to keep their hopes alive. These were not accommodations up to Hyatt standards. One wonders how many people today would be tough enough to triumph over these hardships. The pain, ennui and discomfort must have been staggering. I found myself just shaking my head with awe at numerous passages in the book. These are men who went to Hell and came back alive. That is remarkable in and of itself. This book is a classic account of one of man's most remarkable journeys. Read it and discover for yourself.
on August 11, 1998
On the basis of Amazon reviewers, I got a copy of this book from my university's library. After reading it, I've ordered a personal copy. Lansing's a marvelous writer. His prose is elegant, powerfully and wonderfully descriptive, and he knows how to hold the reader as captive as Shackleton's crew on the ice flow. The Amazon reviewers who mildly complained about the book becoming somewhat bogged down about two-thirds through are right--but in no way does that compromise the essence and thrill of this adventure story. I read it wanting to know more about Shackleton's leadship philosophy and strategies, but what I came away with was an unbridled appreciation of the composition and virtues of his crew: how they managed to get along, their infinite patience, and their quiet courage in what must have been--despite all the description--an utterly unimagineable ordeal. It is exceedingly odd and wonderfully paradoxical that Shackleton totally failed in his objective to cross the South Pole--he never got close. But he had this extraordinary adventure. I don't see how a person can be unaffected after reading this book.
Readers who really get into this book should also get a copy of Shackleton's own account, which I think is entitled "South." The reason is that that book is full of black and white photographs of the adventure which add immensely (and that's putting it mildly) to Lansing's prose. The photos show a world of startling beauty and grandeur, and they provide new meaning to being "up against the elements."
Last, one has to be grateful to Amazon.com for enabling readers to review books. I would have never stumbled upon Endurance without the readers' reviews section.
on March 31, 2001
Alfred Lansing subtitled his book, Endurance, as "The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told." That's a tall claim, and he may be right. In terms of the limits of hardship the human body can endure, only one book rivals this incredible true story: Slavomir Rawicz's "The Long Walk" (which I enthusiastically recommend).
In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton, a veteran of two previous Antarctic expeditions, and his crew of 26 men and an eighteen-year-old stowaway-who later has his frostbitten and gangrenous foot amputated-set sail for Antarctica aboard the worthy ship, Endurance, determined to be the first men to sledge across the full breadth of the continent. They never get there. Beset in ice floes just off the coast of Antarctica, ship and crew begin a two-year ordeal of cold, hunger, monotony, loneliness, and despair as they are dragged helplessly around the vicious Weddell Sea by pack ice. The ship is crushed by the ice before the first year is out, forcing the crew onto the ice. This begins an excruciating existence of basic survival against all odds as the pack drifts slowly north, forcing them onto ever diminishing floes, and eventually to the ship's life boats.
Near death, the crew finally reaches hellish and uninhabited Elephant Island after nearly two years. This is before functional radio. There are no satellites, no phones. No one in the world knows where they are. They have been given up for dead by the civilized world thousands of miles away and preoccupied by World War I. Their only hope for salvation is for Shackleton and five others to take the best of the three boats, an open, 22-foot life boat, and sail it 870 miles across the worst seas on earth to the whaling station on South Georgia Island and return to rescue the others before they freeze or starve to death. After landing on South Georgia, they're forced to trek on foot across the frozen island to reach the whaling station, a feat never before attempted and rarely since accomplished.
The scene Lansing paints as Shackleton and two others trudge into this camp as gaunt and grimy, bearded and long-haired living ghosts in rags, is so moving I had to get up and walk around for a while after reading it. I got seasick on a cruise ship in the Caribbean once, and wanted to die. What these heroes stoically endured is simply beyond comprehension. And hurray to Lansing for his research and writing effort. As a writer myself, I see one of the major challenges in writing this book as how to keep the text fresh and the excitement going, when in reality each day of the expedition was a boring repetition of cold, hunger, worry, ice, and more ice. But this is the epitome of a page-turner. Why isn't it a major movie? -Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake Up Dead.
on February 25, 2001
I literally couldn't put this book down. And that rarely happens. Yes, the story begins slowly as Lansing has to give us some background on the crew and some context for the expedition, which goes as planned for the first few months. But both the story and Lansing's telling of it become increasingly compelling as the events become more and more unbearable.
I mean, think about being stuck on a floating island of ice for 5 months, eating seals and penguins, exposed continually to sub-freezing (even sub-zero) conditions roughly 1000 miles from civilization's last outpost. And the truly horrendous conditions are yet to come! The story pushes you well into the territory of the unimaginable... and just keeps going. There seems no end to their trials, no constraints on the degree of their suffering. And yet all survive.
Others have said the Lansing version is the best, and I was very satisfied to read it first. It has narrative power. But I would also recommend you buy Caroline Alexander's book as a companion, mainly for Hurley's amazing photos but also for even more context on the flawed aspects of most expeditions during this period and the class differences among the Endurance's crew.
Still, this a story everyone should know. It really stretches the limits of what one imagines is humanly possible for one to endure. It's as if Shackleton and his men made definitive claim, for all time, to some capacity for survival that should make us all potentially much stronger than we tend to think we are.