The expedition was given the grand title of The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Due to be launched in 1914, two ships were to be employed. The first, the lead vessel, fittingly named the Endurance was to transport the team to the Weddell Sea from where the great explorer Ernest Shackleton and five others would cross the icy wastes of Antarctica on foot. The second ship, the Aurora was to approach the continent from the other side and put down supplies at various points to help the explorers. The nearly 3000 km expedition was funded largely on the strength of Shackleton's formidable reputation. Many private individuals contributed along with some funds from the British government. However, the shadow of war was looming across Europe.
The expedition also included more than 70 dogs who were kept in the charge of an experienced veterinary doctor. However, the Endurance soon ran into problems. Within a month of its departure, it hit an ice floe and was completely trapped in frozen ice. It began to drift northwards, dashing Shackleton's hopes of an early culmination. South! The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition 1914-1917 by Ernest Shackleton is a brilliant portrayal of this doomed enterprise told by the leader himself.
What makes the book so interesting is Shackleton's own matter of fact courage and his extreme sense of responsibility for his crew. The book which was published long after the actual events took place, was released just a year before Shackleton's death. His physical and mental health were completely broken and the outbreak of war had also taken its toll. Though he suffered from serious ill-health, he insisted on being conscripted and also undertook several diplomatic missions on behalf of the British Government. He was an extremely charismatic figure, worshipped by his crew members and deeply admired by statesmen like Winston Churchill. He died of a heart attack in the South Georgia Islands near South America and he was buried there on the request of his wife. This was indeed a fitting end to his life, “on a island far from civilization, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas and in the vicinity of one of his great exploits,” as his physician noted in his personal diary.
South... is mainly compiled from the logs of the Endurance and the Aurora, with plenty of observations and descriptions by Shackleton himself. The harsh and terrible beauty of the snowy continent are wonderfully and passionately described.
For readers who love the drama of an expedition to the least known ends of the earth, led by a figure of such heroic proportions, this is indeed a great read.
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