Overview: This book was amazing. Lansing tells the story of Earnest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which was an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east for the first time in recorded history. The party set out in 1915 in a ship called the Endurance. Shackleton’s crew consisted of twenty-eight men. After getting stuck in the ice, the elements at sea literally crushed the ship and left the entire crew stranded on the ice floe with nothing more than the supplies they could salvage from the ship, their pack dogs, and three life boats. Determined to survive, Shackleton led the men through months of freezing weather over sheets of ice in one of the most desolate places on earth. The things that the men endure are insane and it provides insight into what the human body can tolerate, and how in modern civilization we take for granted the relative comfort we perpetually exist in, especially when it comes to temperature. Between the months on the ice, open boat journeys through the sea, the entire crew of the Endurance ends up surviving, which is almost hard to believe. I recommend this book to everyone.
Lesson: To me this was an important lesson in history and a look into a world of an adventure most people would never dare be involved with. It was one hundred years ago now that Shackleton started his journey, and in those one hundred years life has changed drastically. It amazes me what the men were able to endure during their journey at a frozen sea. Mentally and physically, Shackleton’s men showed next level strength.
Important Passages (Per Sean):
It was, perhaps, the attitude of the men. They worked with a deliberate urgency, hardly speaking to one another . There was no display of alarm, however. In fact, apart from the movement of the ice and the sounds from the ship , the scene was one of relative calm. The temperature was 8 ½ degrees below zero, and a light southerly wind was blowing. Overhead, the twilight sky was clear.
The goal of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition , as its name implies, was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east.
Shackleton’s unwillingness to succumb to the demands of everyday life and his insatiable excitement with unrealistic ventures left him open to the accusation of being basically immature and irresponsible. And very possibly he was— by conventional standards. But the great leaders of historical record— the Napoleons, the Nelsons, the Alexanders— have rarely fitted any conventional mold, and it is perhaps an injustice to evaluate them in ordinary terms. There can be little doubt that Shackleton, in his way, was an extraordinary leader of men.
In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age— no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.
From studying the outcome of past expeditions, he believed that those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.
The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances.
Though he was virtually fearless in the physical sense, he suffered an almost pathological dread of losing control of the situation.
Shackleton felt that if dissension arose, the party as a whole might not put forth that added ounce of energy which could mean, at a time of crisis, the difference between survival and defeat. Thus he was prepared to go to almost any length to keep the party close-knit and under his control.
In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness , they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found not wanting.
Each day blurred anonymously into the one before. Though they invariably tried to see the good side of things, they were unable to fight off a growing sense of disappointment.
But Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility, and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy. What might have been an act of reasonable caution to the average person was to Shackleton a detestable admission that failure was a possibility.
Each day became so much like the one before that any unusual occurrence, however small, generated enormous interest.
For the first time in 497 days they were on land. Solid, unsinkable, immovable, blessed land.
No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.
More and more, as the days wore on, they fell inescapably into the routine of their existence.
Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.
Again and again the cycle was repeated until the body and the mind arrived at a state of numbness in which the frenzied antics of the boat, the perpetual cold and wet came to be accepted almost as normal.
But sufficiently provoked, there is hardly a creature on God’s earth that ultimately won’t turn and attempt to fight, regardless of the odds. In an unspoken sense, that was much the way they felt now. They were possessed by an angry determination to see the journey through— no matter what. They felt that they had earned it. For thirteen days they had absorbed everything that the Drake Passage could throw at them—and now, by God, they deserved to make it.
They looked up against the darkening sky and saw the fog curling over the edge of the ridges, perhaps 2,000 feet above them— and they felt that special kind of pride of a person who in a foolish moment accepts an impossible dare— then pulls it off to perfection.
A peculiar thing to stir a man— the sound of a factory whistle heard on a mountainside. But for them it was the first sound from the outside world that they had heard since December , 1914— seventeen unbelievable months before.