The Endurance

March 5, 2015 § 3 Comments

new-shackleton

I recently finished reading The Endurance.  I really need to stop whining about how cold our house is in the mornings.

A few years ago I started following a blogger who may have mentioned once or twice that Shackleton is her hero.  At the time I was like, pfft, explorer, whatever.  Then a few months ago my dad mentioned him and was like, no, seriously, that is a crazy story, it’s such a good book.  And I was looking for a book anyway.  So  I went online to check it out and ordered a used copy for one cent on Amazon Prime.

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…and this hardcopy behemoth was delivered.  But turns out it is actually great, because the photos in there are incredible.

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Basic synopsis: British explorer attempts to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent in 1914.  Not something I would have ever picked up on my own.

Legend has it that Shackleton placed this ad in the paper to find his crew:

“MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.

– SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON”

Tim Ferris recently used this to advertise for a personal assistant (true story).  The book never mentioned it, and from what I’ve read elsewhere it sounds like there’s no proof that it ever existed. But it’s awesome to think that the crew was made up of people who would respond to that.

One of the remarkable things about this trip is that in addition to including a photographer, Frank Hurley, on the crew, Shackleton and a large number of the crew kept journals religiously.  Shackleton had struggled to scrape together the financing for the expedition and had sold exclusive story and film rights prior to his departure, so the trip was documented extensively.  When things were looking really, really bad, many continued to write.  Even when (SPOILER ALERT!) they had to abandon ship and had to leave behind everything except for emergency provisions, all of the journals and a sizable portion of Hurley’s negatives, as well as his basic photography equipment, were considered important enough to be saved.

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Pretty awesome.  A few other takeaways:

First:  You (or at least, I) would assume that there would only be room for one expedition of this magnitude, with this amount of risk, in a lifetime.  But for Shackleton, and many crew members, this was their second, or third, or FOURTH trip to the south pole.  From England. On a boat.  In the early 1900s.  Following the expedition, a number of them went to fight in the war, then came back and went on even MORE arctic explorations, then finally settled down and led regular lives as pub owners or fishermen.  What.

Lesson 1: there is time to accomplish a lot of big things in life.  Don’t let the magnitude of something stop you from trying.

Second: (again, SPOILER ALERT!)  The expedition never even set foot on the continent, and yet their story is held up as one of the greatest, most amazing adventure/survival stories of all time. In a letter to his wife Shackleton wrote, “I have done it.  Damn the Admiralty…not a life lost and we have been through Hell.”

Lesson 2: “Success” redefines itself over time.  You never know what it will look like.

Third:  Shackleton was a badass and that was why his crew survived.  Not because he performed superhuman feats of strength, but because through subtle, everyday actions he conveyed a fortitude and unwavering faith in the crew’s collective ability to succeed, no matter how horrifically bleak the situation.  Caroline Alexander wrote:

“(Shackleton) would be remembered not so much for his own accomplishment….as for what he was capable of drawing out of others.  …  The mystique that Shackleton acquired as a leader may partly be attributed to the fact that he elicited from his men strength and endurance they had never imagined they possessed; he ennobled them.”

Lesson 3:  How you act really does effect others.

And seriously, the pictures.

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Good read.  Great story.  Check it out.

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