One of the books I read last year led me to the realisation that I had no idea about the adventures of Ernest Shackleton or other early explorers of Antarctica. Deciding I needed to fix this immediately, I went on my local library site and placed a hold on the first book that came up when I searched ‘Shackleton’. What landed in my lap the following week was the kind of book you’d read for a Year 7 social science assignment, but I read it anyway, so now I’m going to review it.
First of all, the title is a little misleading as the book is as much about the other explorers as it is about Shackleton himself. The introduction advises that The South Pole is the harshest and most desolate spot on the Earth’s surface. You can find it on a map at 90 degrees South, and with the exception of a special band of explorers, that is as close as any of us will ever get to the Pole.
I have trouble imagining how a person can be so tough and brave to endure such harsh and unforgiving conditions for months on end. Especially considering the fact that the clothing and equipment they went with were laughable by today’s standards. And the food! A photo of the ration for one person for one day, consisting of cocoa, pemmican, sugar, biscuits, butter and tea, looks like about the same amount of calories a modern traveller would receive on a flight as a ‘snack’ between meals. (If you really want to know what pemmican is, I’ll let you do your own internet search… let’s just say you won’t be seeing it on Masterchef anytime soon.)
Disagreements and competition led to two separate expeditions where teams were trying to be the first to get to the pole. Death came slowly and excruciatingly to those who made mistakes. The rest, as they say, is history.
The book is set out with lots of photos to break up the text and relics such as diary extracts to maintain interest. It’s a good ‘taster’ of the first famous expeditions to Antarctica and I think I’d like to read more comprehensive biographies of those involved.