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Erebus: The Story of a Ship

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  3,844 ratings  ·  496 reviews
In his major new work, Michael Palin – former Monty Python stalwart and much-loved television globe-trotter – brings to life the world and voyages of HMS Erebus, from its construction in the naval dockyards of Pembroke, to the part it played in Ross’s Antarctic expedition of 1839–43, to its abandonment during Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition, and to its final redisco ...more
Hardcover, 16 pages of plates; illustrations, 334 pages
Published September 20th 2018 by Hutchinson/Random House Books
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Bill Lynas
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When epic traveller & comedian Michael Palin completed his final lice performances with the Monty Python team he naturally felt deflated. By chance he became fascinated with HMS Erebus & her fatal Arctic voyage with HMS Terror in 1845, & this excellent book is the result.
Palin provides a wonderful story of the ship's history & early voyages before her ill fated journey to look for the North West Passage with HMS Terror. I first became interested in these two ship's Arctic adventure after watchin
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cheered on by a crowd of engineers, carpenters, blacksmiths, clerks and their families, the stout, broad-hulled warship they had been building for the past two years slides, stern first, down the slipway at Pembroke Dockyard. The cheers rise to a roar as she strikes the waters of Milford Haven. She bounces, bobs and shakes herself like a newborn waterfowl. Her name is Erebus.

It might be a Canadian thing to be fascinated by the doomed Franklin Expedition that ended on our northern limits – I watc
Ericka Seidemann
Palin’s Erebus is a comprehensive account of one of the most famous Arctic and Antarctic exploration vessels. Palin provides a detailed yet compelling overview of the life of Erebus, recently rediscovered in only 36 feet of water in the Arctic, where she has remained since her last voyage with Sir John Franklin in 1845.

Palin’s Erebus reviews the life of the ship, from her first uneventful days as a warship to her watery demise in the mid-1800s in the infamous and mysterious Franklin North West P
Yigal Zur
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
great travel book. one of the best i read for years. Palin really have the touch for it. it is a story of boat, of exploration but above all of daring people. the two major parts are the exploration of antarctica which was led by Ross. amazing story. and the last part the tragic story of Franklin and his crew to try and find the north-west passage. great tale and read. should give it 4.5
Will Ansbacher
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, polar
This is a really interesting story of polar exploration from a slightly different angle. Michael Palin has focussed on the ships – the Erebus mainly, but also her sister ship the Terror – that were the common elements of two great Antarctic and Arctic expeditions in the 1840’s, as England obsessively attempted to be the first to discover the extreme ends of the earth.

The first, magnificently successful voyage was a four-year, three-winter discovery of the Antarctic, led by James Clark Ross, not
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to love Michael Palin’s new book “Erebus”. I really did. I am a fan not just of his comedy, but also of his travel shows. Additionally, the lost Franklin expedition that sank the Erebus and the Terror is something I have been interested in for years. I thought this would be a perfect storm (pun intended) for a reviewer’s book. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this book. Palin does an excellent job provided the facts and using period documents to tell the story of Erebus from birth to ...more
Chris Steeden
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was lucky enough to get this copy of Erebus at a book signing with Palin. Nice chap he is too I must say. Erebus? What’s all this about then? Well, on 09-Sep-2014 the Prime Minister of Canada announced that a Canadian underwater archaeology team had discovered what they believed to be the HMS Erebus that had been lost for almost 170 years on the seabed somewhere in the Arctic.


Palin transports us back in time to 1826 when the bomb vessel, Erebus, was launched from Pembroke Dockyard in Wales. Sh
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting and detailed book about the journeys of this ship and its discovery
Sophie Crane
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, travel
This was Radio 4's book of the week, and I caught a couple of episodes. I had already decided I'd probably get the book, although I was pretty familiar with the Franklin story and the repeated attempts on the North West Passage, have several books on the topic and a forebear who commanded an early Arctic Naval expedition in which Franklin commanded the smaller vessel (shamefully not mentioned by M. Palin!)
It was never less than riveting, the research was excellent, and even reading it in Kindle
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Utterly enthralling, compulsive stuff. I was already quite familiar with the doomed Franklin Expedition but this adds a whole new layer to it, plus new stuff i was not aware of, which has been meticulously and lovingly researched by Palin.
Add to that - the amazing narration by Palin himself, it has to be only way to devour this book.
I could listen to him narrate the phone book.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a Canadian, the story and the tragedy of the Franklin exploration is one that is never far from the surface of our collective mythology. When then Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his announcement of the finding of the first ship, it made the headlines in both print and electronic media. With the finding of the Erebus, our country was once again fascinated. And here I am today, it’s -32C with the wind chill in Toronto, and I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s book. For the last five years I l ...more
Rob Thompson
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
A biography of a ship and of Victorian heroism

Erebus: The Story of a Ship is a biography of the voyage that was mentioned in Conrad's book, Heart of Darkness. Launched in 1826, it vanished with her sister ship, The Terror, in 1846. They were trying to find a way through the Northwest Passage.129 men were on board. The book covers not only its loss in the Arctic, but its Antarctic exploration, and its construction in Milford Haven.

In September 2014, marine archaeologists discovered HMS Erebus, i
I really enjoyed this! It offered a refreshing take on the Franklin Expedition mystery, offering historical context and insight beyond just the doomed voyage. It was fascinating to hear about the construction of the ships and their first expedition together, to the Antarctic. My biggest takeaway, afforded by this being such a recent book, is the theory that several of the sailors on the expedition could have been female, judging by absences of Y chromosomes in some remains. It’s a thin theory, o ...more
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Such a fun and interesting read! Especially in tandem with watching the show The Terror, which is a fictional, supernatural account of the second great voyage of the Erebus and her sister ship Terror. It reads like a British documentary, in a good way.
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Erebus is, apparently in Greek mythology, the personification of darkness. It therefore seems appropriate to be the name of an Antarctic volcano, that further lived up to its name when, on 28th November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight 901 flew into its slopes, killing all on board. It remains to this day, the single greatest loss of life to affect this small nation and eventually was proven to be due to human error on the part of the logistics staff, not the pilot, who was initially scapegoated.
Miriam Smith
Nov 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: signed, kept-book
Husband read this book and said he enjoyed, learned a lot and was pleased he read.
Brad Bell
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second book I’ve read about the Franklin Expedition and still I find this story endlessly fascinating. When I heard about this book, written by Michael Palin of all people, I was excited. Not only do I love Michael Palin but a story of the expedition focusing a bit more on Erebus, Terror’s sister ship on the expedition, I was here for it. While the story does get in the weeds a bit on the info dump about people and places it’s still an enjoyable book that is worth the recommendation. ...more
Elizabeth Lloyd
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book of heroes, the daring, handsome James Clark Ross, who mapped much of the Antarctic coastline, the unlucky John Franklin, whose ambitious adventurous spirit ended in a disastrous expedition and the gallant ship which linked their lives, the Erebus. It was the rediscovery of the wreck of HMS Erebus on the seabed in Queen Maud Gulf in 2014 that prompted this book.

Written by Michael Palin, whom we know so well as an adventurous traveller on our TV screens, this amazing story is an eas
Andrew Hall
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Palin covers the life of the HMS Erebus, and its crews, from its launch in 1826 until it vanished with its sister ship, the HMS Terror, in a search for the Northwest Passage in 1846. Palin is a witty but thorough story-teller. The story starts off a bit slow, but the relating of the 1839-1843 Ross Expedition to Antartica was fascinating, using a variety of diaries, letters, and other sources. The story of doomed 1845 Franklin expedition was gripping and chilling. With (almost) no remaining writt ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Michael Palin reads from his new book, abridged by Penny Leicester, about the mysterious and tragic voyage of HMS Erebus in 1845:

A 19th century botanist, Joseph Hooker, and a press conference in Canada in 2014 sharpen the author's interest in the story. Erebus made a successful journey to the Antarctic and was being rigged and loaded for a second expedition to the Northwest Passage. Hopes were high when she finally set off with HMS Terror from Greenhithe on th
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I kept getting interrupted during my reading of this book, the fascination never died for Erebus and her sister ship, Terror. There are so many different areas of intrigue that I'll be further researching, like the ships' journeys, appearances of lands they discovered and the illustrations drawn by those aboard, where the ships were discovered and where their remains lay, and so many other things. I can't wait to read more.

Palin truly did a magnificent job with this non fiction read.
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
In Erebus, Michael Palin documents the Antarctic and Arctic explorations carried out by the ships Erebus and Terror. Given how dull and boring life aboard a ship must have been, why are these histories so appealing?

If had to guess, it's likely the irresistible image of a ship at sea, sails full as it dashes between icebergs. Here is Palin, attempting to capture the spirit of adventure: "By now, everyone aboard must have realised this was why they had set out. This was exploration. Every nautical
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent, gripping book about 2 incredible voyages at the height of Britain's golden age of naval exploration. Palin successfully brings the major characters in both journeys to life and his narrative is both informative and highly readable. The book is amazingly engrossing and moving - reading it takes you from the suspenseful, ultimately triumphant Antarctic Ross voyage, crashing down into the doomed, brutal Franklin voyage that killed everyone on board. Each of those voyages can f ...more
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a gripping and fascinating story of the “Erebus” and its companion ship, “Terror”. Both were built as slow but strongly constructed and very stable bomb ships outfitted to fire shells against land-based armies. The older and slightly smaller “Terror” was actually used during the Napoleonic Wars but the war was over before the “Erebus” was ready for use. They were both then strengthened and adapted for polar exploration which remained their function and the two were always used together.

Katia M. Davis
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it was available. I wanted to buy a hardback copy to put on my shelf along with my other 'disaster' books. Unfortunately every time I went to buy a copy from my local store, it was sold out (which I took as a good sign). I had to resort to the ebook version. I'll get a hardback too at some point.

This is an excellent discussion of the failed Franklin Expedition. It has been thoroughly researched, includes plenty of documentation and goes through the imp
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Always enjoy Michael Palin's books. Even better if one listens to the audiobook. Read an article about the Erebus and then discovered that Michael Palin has a book on the subject. It's written and researched well. Then we get the well-traveled author's perspective on the places that the ships, Erebus and Terror, have been to. One can see how it must have been during those times of discoveries. Sure, the motive is mainly colonialism, to spread British culture to the "uncivilized". But there is al ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for much of Michael Palin's personality or humor you're reading the wrong book. What you will get is a solid narrative from a passionate (and, yes, witty) amateur historian about two amazing adventures. I don't know if this is a book I will think back on and ponder, but it is a fascinating window to a time when The Unknown was a prominent character and those who set out to meet her did so at their own peril.
Paul Cuthbert
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is all about a ship, but the writing brings the people who served on the ship alive.

One of the main characters James Clark Ross has a blue plaque near where I live in Blackheath and before this I didn't know about him. Having a small part of the book set near where I live in south east London (Blackheath and Woolwich Dockyard) took me back in time.

A great story with a dreadful ending for some of the protagonists.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I read The Terror earlier this year and was completely obsessed with the Franklin Expedition afterwards. Then, after watching the TV show and being even more obsessed I had just managed to shake it off when I run across this book. And it reignited that fascination, perhaps made it even stronger.

It's non fiction, which is a very welcome contrast to The Terror, but nonetheless entertaining, intriguing and first and foremost informative. Plus, it's about the Erebus, so I got a good look at the othe
Victor Brand
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not only the disappearance when searching for the north west passage but the whole story from the laying of the keel to the Antarctic exploration and finally the end in the arctic and then the discovery of the hulls. A fascinating insight into life aboard ship, the hardships and depreciation. Palin makes a good fist of the historic tale.
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Sir Michael Edward Palin, KCMG, CBE, FRGS is an English comedian, actor, writer and television presenter best known for being one of the members of the comedy group Monty Python and for his travel documentaries.

Palin wrote most of his material with Terry Jones. Before Monty Python, they had worked on other shows such as The Ken Dodd Show, The Frost Report and Do Not Adjust Your Set. Palin appeared

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