The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander – Review

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By Rich Barnett

Shackleton’s failure to reach the South Pole has never truly been seen as anything near a disaster, thanks to the truly heroic rescuing of his crew as they battled their way home.

Psychologists would no doubt have a field day in studying the man who was able to get so much out of his crew. The journey, by sea to the Antarctic ice floes was an expedition in itself, a mix of classes, backgrounds and skills united in the desire to be the first to conquer the South Pole.

Packed into the steam-powered ship Endurance, which was little more than 140 feet long, the 22-strong crew pooled their talents and propelled South, but caught in seriously heavy ice – much more than had been expected – had to abandon their vessel.

“Wonderful photographs”

Blame the ice, not the leader of the expedition, as it was much worse than had been anticipated, and there was no choice but to abandon the venture and make for home.

the endurance caroline alexander book review coverThe story alone is beyond wonder, and has the line that if someone had made it up, it wouldn’t have been thought possible.

But what makes this story – and this book – are the wonderful photographs taken by appointed photographer Frank Hurley. Pin-sharp and taken with a true photographer’s eye, the shots (many slides had to be left on the Endurance) capture the fiendishly cold bleakness of Antarctica, and it’s easy to see that here was a force to be reckoned with.

That force led to what is still regarded as one of the most heroic, dangerous sea journeys ever made, when Shackleton and five others set off from Elephant Island – where they had rowed to after losing their ship – on an 800 miles journey to South Georgia Island to find a rescue ship that would liberate the rest of the party from Elephant Island.


The tale of crossing the Island, after a journey in a rowing boat that involved tackling Cape Horn, is a story in itself, and one that author Caroline Alexander tackles both engagingly and sensitively. Alexander’s writing style is clear, concise, but never dull. It moves at a good pace, so there is never an opportunity to stop and put the kettle. And that would be good enough.

But the story of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition rightfully deserves an accomplished recounter, and this book deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone interested in that post-Victorian expedition era.

Splendid in every way, and first-class value.

‘The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition’ by Caroline Alexander is published by Pen and Sword Books, £16.99


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