|About the Book|
More than just an account of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09, this book is also the biography of Ernest Shackleton from his birth through that important exploratory voyage. I found the account of his childhood and education interesting for the light it shed on his personal characteristics and the training he had experienced prior to the voyage in question. Riffenburgh herein also describes the zeitgeist of Victorian Britain, its values and aspirations and the ways in which its imperialist culture created and reinforced the passion for exploration that produced so many British explorers of the time.Shackleton’s first trip to the Antarctic was with Robert Falcon Scott in 1902, when, with Edward Wilson, they tried for the Pole and turned back at about 82ºS. Shackleton was invalided home from the journey, determined to return and try again. His never congenial relationship with Scott deteriorated further, and in 1908 he headed south on an expedition of his own, the one described in this fascinating account. Basing his attempt at McMurdo in the Ross Sea, members of his party explored northward in Victoria Land to the site of the South Magnetic Pole, westward on the Ferrar Glacier and the Dry Valley, and south toward the pole, turning back less than one hundred miles from their destination. Later, after the events related in this book, Shackleton set out in 1914 on his ship “Endurance” to cross Antarctica, only to be thwarted when ice destroyed the ship. That story of heroism and privation and eventual survival of his entire party is well know. Heading south one final time in 1921, Shackleton died of a heart attack before arriving in Antarctica and was buried on South Georgia Island.Riffenburgh has told the tale of the voyage on the “Nimrod” in 1908 with great skill. Relating the journey week by week and sometimes day by day, he explores the personalities of the participants, describes the challenges and privations that they experienced, examines the psychological aspects of the experience, and touches upon the scientific achievements. One comes away from reading this book with an appreciation for the primitive equipment these men had, the terrible conditions they found, and the sheer grit that they demonstrated in accomplishing what they did. The tale is gripping. Most of all Riffenburgh portrays what a remarkable man Ernest Shackleton was. “This was the essence of Shackleton: the struggle, the fight, the attainment of goals others might think unachievable. It was also the spirit of the men of the British Antarctic Expedition. Underequipped, inexperienced, ill-fed, they attained success by sheer will, drive and determination. Few expeditions in the history of exploration accomplished more: the farthest south, the ascent of Mount Erebus, the attainment of the Magnetic Pole and the fulfillment of a diverse scientific programme…all with no loss of life.”I was myself gripped by the figure of Shackleton when I read Alfred Lansing’s wonderful book, Endurance, a reading that motivated me to travel to Antarctica one February. It is an unforgettable place, alien and majestic, stark and entrancing, replete with wildlife on the Peninsula, a place that I would love to visit again – and again. It was my privilege to raise a glass in toast to Ernest Shackleton beside his grave in Grytviken, South Georgia.