There aren't many true-life tales that live up to the hype. There are always some details that make the story just a little less dramatic than in the made-for-TV movie. Not this time. While listening to this audiobook, the thought that went through my head over and over again was "Holy s***!" The book starts with the Endurance
, trapped in the Antarctic ice, being literally crushed to death. The men abandon ship, and then float on the ice pack for months. When the pack breaks up, they launch the lifeboats they salvaged from the Endurance
and land on Elephant Island. Then Shackleton sets off again in one of the lifeboats, crossing the incredibly dangerous Drake Passage in nothing more than a 22-foot open boat, hoping to reach South Georgia to come back with a relief ship for the men left behind on Elephant Island.
The whole epic voyage takes over a year, and every single day, they were one wave, misstep, or blizzard away from being wiped out in an instant. That any of them survived is amazing; that everyone did is unbelievable. Alfred Lansing wrote this book from the journals the men kept, which gave him a very detailed picture of every stage of this journey. It's a tense thriller all the way through, and will make you so incredibly glad you have never had to go through anything like this. When Shackleton finally stumbles into a whaling camp on South Georgia Island and announces himself, you will have a hard time not feeling a lump in your throat.
As affecting as the unbelievable odds these men beat is the unbelievable hardships they endured. They teetered on the verge of starvation and freezing to death, lived and slept in the most miserably wet, frozen conditions, with little protection from blizzards and gale-force winds. They lived for months on pack ice
! Lansing does not stint on the grimy, unpleasant details of day-to-day existence under these circumstances, like having to go outside to empty the communal urine pot in a gale, or taking a dump over the side of a boat that is being tossed about by rough seas (and surrounded by killer whales just in case the poor bastards didn't have enough to think about), or having to kill and eat their dogs, or having to cut off gangrenous toes. Every time you think it can't possibly suck worse to be them, it sucks worse.
Absolutely a thrilling read, and will really make you appreciate how grueling and miserable this expedition was, and how awesome their achievement was just in surviving.