Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is an insane book, and it’s hard to believe that it is a true story. Every harrowing event of Shackleton’s ill-fated journey to the South Pole is recounted down to each and every last moment. What little I knew about this expedition revolved around the abandoning of the ship from which the book gets its title, and I might have suspected that this would be most of the story. The decision to abandon ship after it gets crushed by sea ice is, however, just the beginning of the story. From there, Shackleton and his men have to face the harshest elements on Earth for over a year before ultimately reaching civilization.
This book presents every granular detail of this amazing story, down to what the men ate each day. That might seem like too much detail for most people, but speaking as someone whose attention strays easily, I found this to be a genuine nail-biter. I might even call it a page-turner, if I had actually read a physical copy of the book.
Indeed, the book never feels bloated at all. Every chapter is yet another iteration in complete craziness. The fact that the boat gets crushed towards the beginning of the book gives you some idea of just how nuts the story gets. The most shocking thing, though, is the fact that Shackleton did not lose a single life.
As someone that is also very much interested in the ingredients that make up good leadership, this story is a real tour de force in that regard. Captain Kirk himself probably never had to make as many tough decisions as Shackleton was faced with daily. The truly remarkable thing is how decisions as minor as food rationing always dovetail into the biggest problem of all－the problem that turns out to be the whole lesson, in fact－morale.
It is all well a good that the author chose not to really play up any philosophical consequences of this story, instead letting the story speak for itself. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t get chills while reading this, finding my imagination running wild with metaphysical musing. Why does this group of men face one life-threatening obstacle after another? Every victory leads to a new challenge, as if by divine will. The author does not answer the question, but the story speaks for itself.
It is a truly inspiring story for anyone that wishes to read about men being pushed to limits that would break most people, and offers some hope. Being an optimist is easy when things are working out, but when things look bleak, it is stories like these that help us through it.