Nonfiction Boot Camp discussion

Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

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message 1: by Ellesee (last edited Jan 05, 2009 03:38PM) (new)

Ellesee | 33 comments Mod
Lansing traces Ernest Shackleton's attempt to be the first person to cross Anarctica in 1915 through interviews and journals of the people on the expedition.

Although early on Shackleton's ship is wrecked and the attempt is aborted, the story is mainly about how Shackleton and his crew (keep scrolling down for possible spoiler) survived in horrible weather conditions for almost 2 years on the continent.

It's an interesting enough story but the descriptions of ships, seals/ penguins, ice, snow, and weather do start to get repetitive after the first few chapters. I think some knowledge about ships and sailing (which I don't have) would have made the book more compelling to me. The book is divided into 4 sections, each a specific part of their ordeal.

What I wished the author would have detailed more were the psychological state of the men and some facts about Anarctica. However, the book was published in the 1950s-60s, so there was much less known about Anarctica then and delving into psychology was less common then now perhaps. (The Perfect Storm was another disaster book but more descriptive in this sense.) It's pretty much a just- the-facts type book. I also wished there were more maps and pictures.

Writing style is easy to read but not page-turning-compelling.

* The ENTIRE crew survived - amazing!

message 2: by Laurie (new)

Laurie (lauriea) | 73 comments Mod
I’m glad I stuck with Big Dead Place—I rambled through the first 3 chapters over slowly over December, but then the pace really picked up and I was (sort of) hooked (it’s only 250 pages ☺). It is very much of its time just as Shackleton's Incredible Voyage seems like it might’ve been—BDP was published in 2005. The blurb on the back says it “shatters the well-worn clichés of polar literature,” and it IS a little self-consciously hip, but in a fun way.

The author (Nicholas Johnson) has worked off and on in Antarctica for 5 years, and his book details life at McMurdo Base and the US South Pole Station. He weaves a little bit of the darker side of official Antarctic history into the story of his fellow workers, who are mostly a bunch of drunken oddballs or annoying petty bureaucrats (in fact the bureaucrats and corporate lackeys are portrayed as much worse than the harsh climate—it’s kind of an icy Office Space, if anyone has seen that movie). Not much “triumph of the human spirit” here—although most people seem to come expecting a transcendent experience, what they end up getting is something quite different.

You don’t get much of a sense of natural place in the book, either—for being about an isolated continent, it’s extremely crowded with people. What you do get is a profound sense of the strangeness of it all, and the people who are attracted to that strangeness. Unfortunately, petty rivalries eventually take over completely. For all of the humor, by the end of the book things are looking pretty bleak.

If you’re tempted to read it, take a look at his website first ( I think much of it is excerpted here, and it might be enough to satisfy your curiosity.

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