Summary: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Summary: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

Quick Summary

The book tells the story of a group of explorers led by Ernest Shackleton and the group of 27 men on a journey to become the first group of humans to cross the Antarctic continent. Boarded on “Endurance,” the ship intended to get them to the Antarctic, the book documents the series of unfortunate events that unfolded in from of the crew and how they managed to find their salvation without losing a single human life.

Full Summary

In November 1914, the expedition of 28 people, led by Ernest Shackleton, started its journey to the Antarctic, intending to become the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent successfully. For that purpose, the crew used “Endurance,” a ship built for hunting polar bears, with the goal to transport the crew along with the dogs and sledge which would be used to travel across the continent once the ship docks.

The book starts with the recruitment of the 27 crew members, the process of getting the ship, and starting a journey from the United Kingdom to the island of South Georgia, which was the starting point of the expedition. The crew started their journey in November 1914.

Very soon, things started to take an unexpected turn when the ship got trapped in the pack ice, immobilizing the ship and getting the crew trapped over 60 miles away from the original landing destination. Unable to maneuver the ship, the crew floated along with the ice pack for several months, and the currents drifted the ship northwest, away from the desired destination.

During the ice floating, the morale of the crew was high; they were optimistic and not worried for their lives, even though they realized that their intended initial expedition had most likely failed. As the polar summer was ending, the conditions outside of the ship became even more brutal, and soon strong winds, in combination with even bigger ice packs, started to tear the ship apart.

Shackleton and the crew realized that staying on the ship won’t be possible for much longer, so they decided to leave the ship and make a camp on the ice pack. With them, they carried dogs, sledges, and small boats, carrying as much food as possible.

By November 1915, the “Endurance” is completely crushed, and the crew is forced to carry their rescue on foot. They decided to relocate to another floe, as the initial one started to crumble and break under pressure, attempting to travel over the pack ice on sledges, but the conditions wouldn’t allow them to travel efficiently.

The author describes in detail how the crew managed to maintain high morale and what their everyday lives and routines looked like while floating on the pack ice. After another melting period, the crew is in a dangerous situation and needs to find a way to escape. 3 small boats are employed, split into 2 groups, and reunited at Elephant Island.

Almost 2 years after the start of the expedition, after several rescue attempts, the crew is finally safe and well and back on the island of South Georgia. Amazingly, all 28 members of the crew managed to get there alive.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - excerpt

What does the book promise to deliver?

The story of the “Endurance” and its crew, even one century after the events occurred, still stands as one of the most fascinating true adventure stories ever written. The extent of the difficulties and life-threatening situations the crew faced for almost 2 years makes this book a must-read, especially for people who enjoy adventures.

This is also a story of comradery, 28 men sticking together and working as a unit in one of the harshest places on the planet Earth. The book displays the leadership skills of Earnest Shackelton and how he managed to push the crew above the known limits of human endurance, both physical and mental.

Since the events in the story are often unimaginably hard for a regular person to grasp as realistic, this book can be read as a very intense thriller story that will keep the readers at the edge of their seats throughout the whole book.

The tone of the book

Alfred Lensing had a difficult job incorporating multiple different elements and sources into this book. On the one hand, he used notes from personal records and diaries of the “Endurance” crew, and a big portion of the book is told from the first-person perspective of one of the crew members.

The other source was the interviews Lensing conducted with the survived crew members at a time, and the book also has a third-person narration. Overall, the author incorporated all three perspectives, and the impression is that he managed to do that smoothly.

Lensing doesn’t shy away from drawing the readers into the world of the book’s protagonists, often detailly describing their surroundings and daily actions. This often includes scenes that some readers won’t be able to withstand, like accounts of killing the dogs when the crew ran out of other food sources.

The way Lensing introduces and describes each crew member is very detailed, and the reader will feel like each of them is an integral part of the story. The language is clean, without swearing and sexual content.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - back

What type of reader would enjoy this book?

“Endurance” has a lot to offer to a variety of readers. First of all, this is one of the most incredible adventures written on paper, and all admirers of a good adventure story will enjoy this book. However, be prepared for some daunting, terrifying scenes, which add thriller-like elements to this adventure.

Another critical aspect of the book revolves around endurance – the story of the “Endurance” crew is probably the peak of human capabilities, both physician and mental. The way the crew was able to keep the morale high and not lose optimism for 2 years in one of the most hostile places in the world is unmatched and is a testament to their mentality and an unbreakable will to live.

“Endurance” is also recommended to people interested in learning more about leadership. Some people consider Ernest Shackleton to be of the best leaders in human history, considering the conditions and obstacles that he and his crew were facing for an extended period of time.

People who want to find out more about how does it look like to live and visit the Antarctic can learn a lot from this book. Lensing does a marvelous job of describing the horror that surrounds the Endurance crew along their journey, and people will feel like they’re directly placed on the ground with them, getting a true feeling of how it looks like trying to survive and travel across the frozen continent.

A heads up for people with a sensitive stomach – this book contains some very graphic scenes of pain, suffering, and even animal cruelty. In order to survive, the crew had to reconcile with the fact that some extremely hard decisions had to be made, like killing and eating their faithful dogs once all other sources of food vanished.

Similarly, some crew members needed to be succumbed to amputating parts of their bodies to avoid gangrene and further falling apart of the body. For these reasons, some readers won’t be able to go over these gruesome descriptions.

How well does “Endurance” compare with other titles in this field?

Since this book was originally published in 1959, many readers are surprised by how modern is the style of writing Lensing employs. Compared to the other works of nonfiction from this period, people find “Endurance” to be ahead of its time in terms of the content and writing style.

Some readers find “Endurance” the most similar to the title published almost 60 years after Lensing’s book – “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” by Scott Kelly, a story of an astronaut who spent a record-breaking one year in space.

Many of the readers also mentioned that this book is among the best leadership book available, inspired by the courage and determination of Ernest Shackleton. Similarly, they put this book at the top of the adventure/discovery genre.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - spine

Audiobook review

The audiobook version of “Endurance” runs for 10 hours and 20 minutes and is narrated by Simon Prebble. The overall impression of the listeners is very positive, with people praising Prebble’s intonation.

Listeners had an impression of listening to BBC’s Planet Earth documentary, stating that Prebble’s narration was “beautiful and riveting.” They were also impressed by the narrator’s ability to modify his delivery to suit the moment and add a bit of personal touch to each of the characters through nuanced voices.

The only major complaint people had about the audio version of the book was the fact that they were not able to see the pictures presented in the print version, which added an extra layer of beauty to the story.

What do readers say about “Endurance”?

Like a fiction

The consensus among the readers was that this book is so unbelievable that it doesn’t seem real. Most of the readers compare “Endurance” with the best worlds of fiction and still can’t comprehend the extent of struggles and endurance the crew managed to overcome.

This is one of the reasons why this book is beloved by people who usually don’t prefer nonfiction books, and the fact that it’s based on true events makes it even more attractive.

People are soft

Many readers pondered over their own softness and stillness after reading this book. Considering the fact that the group of 28 people managed to survive in the eternal winter without a regular source of food and shelter puts things into perspective for a lot of people and makes them think how soft modern humans are.

It also showed many of them what human bearings are truly capable of when faced with the impossible situation and certain death if they don’t push their body and their mind beyond the known limits.

Leadership above ambitions

As the author himself describes, Shackleton was led by ambition and fame when deciding to star in this expedition. Many readers found him “selfish” and “egoistic” because of that and didn’t like his personality right at the beginning of the book.

However, Shackleton changed his priorities once the crew lost the ship and was left to themselves on the harsh terrain. Readers think that Shackleton displayed true leadership, was able to keep the morale high, and people were constantly optimistic about the future. In the end, they all agree that he managed to prioritize his crew and their lives over any personal dream.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - reading

Interesting even though repetitive

Since the book covers a period of 2 years that the “Endurance” crew spent in the Antarctic, some readers find the descriptions of the surroundings and the conditions somewhat repetitive. However, this is not surprising and easily avoidable because the crew basically remained under the same conditions for the whole extent of the book.

Even with this repetitive pattern in mind, readers still found the book enjoyable and exciting, which just tells how captivating the story of this expedition actually is.  Readers that pointed out this “flaw” of the book also stated that the book kept them “at the edge of their seats” until the very end.

Don’t read it if you love animals

Some readers didn’t have enough strength to keep up with the book once it became evident that the crew, faced with the lack and complete absence of any source of food, had to start eating their own dogs intended for the cross-Antartctit slay ride.

While readers understand why this action was necessary in order for the crew to survive and keep going, readers very fond of dogs and animals just couldn’t withstand these descriptions. Similarly, during some very graphic descriptions of how some crew members needed to amputate their frozen toes to avoid further decaying of the body, readers with sensitive stomachs had to check out.

Amazing photos

Many readers found the complementary photos taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer, simply amazing. They feel like these captured moments add the thrill of reading the story and name them as the sole reason why people should choose the printed version of this book over audio.