The Endurance

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by Caroline Alexander

In August 1914, days before the outbreak of the First World War, the renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven set sail for the South Atlantic in pursuit of the last unclaimed prize in the history of exploration: the first crossing on foot of the Antarctic continent. Weaving a treacherous path through the freezing Weddell Sea, they had come within eighty-five miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped fast in the ice pack. Soon the ship was crushed like matchwood, leaving the crew stranded on the floes. Their ordeal would last for twenty months, and they would make two near-fatal attempts to escape by open boat before their final rescue.

Caroline Alexander provides us a compelling narrative of Shackleton's expedition—one of history's greatest epics of survival—drawing on previously unpublished materials. She also shows the incredible work of Frank Hurley, an Australian photographer whose photographic record of the journey has never been published in its entirety. Text and image work together to recreate the horrific beauty of Antarctica, the ship's horrible ruin, and the crew's courageous daily battle to stay alive, a miracle made possible in part by Shackleton's inspired leadership.

It's no less incredible that Hurley's extraordinary photographs have survived: The original glass plate negatives, from which the majority of the book's drawings are wonderfully reproduced, were kept in hermetically sealed cannisters that survived months on ice floes, a week in an open boat on the polar seas, and many months buried in the snows of Elephant Island. Hurley was eventually forced to ditch his professional equipment, and he used a pocket camera and three rolls of Kodak film to take some of the most iconic photographs of the conflict.

The Endurance is a riveting account of one of the final great adventures in the Heroic Age of exploration—perhaps the greatest of them all—published in connection with the American Museum of Natural History's historic exhibition on Shackleton's expedition.

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— Caroline Alexander, The Endurance