Ernest Shackleton, an undeniably brave explorer, labored under a terrible ambition for nearly two decades: the desire to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Repeatedly thwarted by the elements, then finally beaten by the Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen, Shackleton revised his objective in 1912. He would be the first, he decided, to complete "the crossing of the South Polar Continent, from sea to sea."
Shackleton planned to take his ship, Endurance, to the Weddell Sea and from there set out on foot across the polar plateau; he and his party would be supplied at depots set out by another exploring party. Shackleton never arrived at those depots; Endurance was crushed by sea ice, its sailors marooned for months of endless winter. Unaware of Endurance's fate, the 10-man supply party set out on the other side of the continent and discharged their duties without complaint. In the process, three of them died after crossing hundreds of miles of unforgiving, storm-blasted ice.
"Their sacrifice," writes Lennard Bickel, "became a footnote in history and was forgotten, even though Shackleton himself summed up their long agony by saying that 'no more remarkable story of human endeavour has been revealed than the tale of that long march'." Bickel's thoughtful history gives these courageous explorers their due, and it provides a valuable addition to the library of Antarctic travel. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Ernest Shackleton's 1915 attempt to cross the Antarctic continent and his dramatic 800-mile open boat journey to find help when his ship was crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea, have been thoroughly chronicled (e.g., by Shackleton himself in South and by Roland Huntford in Shackleton). But Shackleton's fame has overshadowed the efforts of men who risked, and even gave, their lives to help him attain it. Drawing on research and reporting, Bickel (Mawson's Will) tells of the small party that set out from the other side of Antarctica that year to lay invaluable food depots for the explorers who would never come. Marooned when their ship was ripped from its moorings by a fierce polar gale, the group had to haul hundreds of pounds of food for themselves and the six members of Shackleton's party across 2,000 miles of frozen wasteland without proper equipment or any idea if they would be rescued. Bickel draws on the men's personal diaries and on lengthy interviews recorded in the late 1970s with the only survivingmember of the group in order to infuse the book with staggering details of the party's fight with scurvy and subzero cold. The characters, ranging from the prudent Ernest Joyce to the group's impetuous one-eyed captain, Aeneas Mackintosh, are surprisingly well developed, and Bickel graphically paints their plight, describing "haggard, dirty men, faces black from weeks of hugging the blubber stove, beards matted, here and there the scars of recent frostbite, and their clothes reeking of the smelly fat of the seals that had saved their lives." Balanced, vivid and informative, Bickel's work ensures that the duress endured by these men will not soon be forgotten. (Feb.)
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