Synopses & Reviews
In August 1914, days before the outbreak of the First World War, the renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven set sail for the South Atlantic in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in the history of exploration: the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent. Weaving a treacherous path through the freezing Weddell Sea, they had come within eighty-five miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped fast in the ice pack. Soon the ship was crushed like matchwood, leaving the crew stranded on the floes. Their ordeal would last for twenty months, and they would make two near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before their final rescue.
Drawing upon previously unavailable sources, Caroline Alexander gives us a riveting account of Shackleton's expedition one of history's greatest epics of survival. And she presents the astonishing work of Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer whose visual record of the adventure has never before been published comprehensively. Together, text and image re-create the terrible beauty of Antarctica, the awful destruction of the ship, and the crew's heroic daily struggle to stay alive, a miracle achieved largely through Shackleton's inspiring leadership.
The survival of Hurley's remarkable images is scarcely less miraculous: The original glass plate negatives, from which most of the book's illustrations are superbly reproduced, were stored in hermetically sealed cannisters that survived months on the ice floes, a week in an open boat on the polar seas, and several more months buried in the snows of a rocky outcrop called Elephant Island. Finally Hurley was forced to abandon his professional equipment; he captured some of the most unforgettable images of the struggle with a pocket camera and three rolls of Kodak film.
Published in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History's landmark exhibition on Shackleton's journey, Endurance thrillingly recounts one of the last great adventures in the Heroic Age of exploration perhaps the greatest of them all.
"On the last day of April 1915, with his ship beset in pack ice and with growing doubts about his crew's survival, the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton asked Frank Worsley to dance. 'He is one of the greatest optimists living,' one crew member wrote of Shackleton as he watched him dancing a 'stately waltz' on the pack ice. In Caroline Alexander's remarkable contribution to the growing body of Shackleton lore, she identifies Shackleton's indomitable optimism as his key leadership trait. At times Shackleton's optimism bordered on insanity, as when he and five men attempted to sail a 22-foot open boat 850 miles through tempestuous seas to South Georgia island. In Shackleton's own time his heroism was overshadowed by World War I, but today, thanks to scholars like Alexander, Shackleton's achievements are getting their due acclaim. As if the tale itself were not enough to hold a reader's interest, Alexander's book contains 140 stunning black and white photographs taken by the ship's photographer Frank Hurley. These polar images — some domestic, many otherworldly — are a fitting tribute to the men and their adventure." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
About the Author
Caroline Alexander has written for the New Yorker, Granta, Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, and National Geographic, and is the author of four previous books. She is the curator of "Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Expedition," an exhibition that will open at the American Museum of Natural History in March 1999. She lives on a farm in New Hampshire.