A sometimes glacially paced but admirably complete account of the polar exploration that foregrounded Ernest Shackleton’s better-known voyage on the Endurance.
Riffenburgh (Scott Polar Research Institute) acknowledges that Shackleton himself has been far from forgotten, thanks in part to Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance (1999), and for good reason. His 1908 effort to find reach the South Pole, however, has been treated as something of a footnote, and Riffenburgh does a fine job of assembling the scattered records of the voyage from logs, diaries, and other accounts—including the dismissive reports of Robert Scott, who didn’t much care for Shackleton, and other gainsayers. Riffenburgh places Shackleton in the great tradition of late Victorian British imperialism, even if he was treated as less than a real English hero by virtue of his Irish background. As Riffenburgh resoundingly writes: “There were many distant places where all but Britons feared tread or sail, and Ernest Shackleton was going to seek them out.” Shackleton found them with a vengeance, leading an underfunded and ill-equipped expedition overland across huge expanses of Antarctic ice and over great mountain ranges, battling illness, privation, and occasional outbursts of dissent and frequent expressions of woe from his put-upon crew. (One recorded: “For three days we marched to a monotonous repetition of blasphemy every few steps from Adams, his favorite being ‘Jesus f . . . g God Almighty!’” The race to the pole also took on personal stakes as Shackleton vied to break Robert E. Peary’s claim of having reached the farthest latitude, which his crew did, having to scale an 11,000-foot range in the bargain. And more, Riffenburgh concludes: “Not only did Shackleton and his companions attain a phenomenal farthest south, members of the expedition also made the first ascent of Mount Erebus, reached the South Magnetic Pole, carried out an extensive scientific program, and brought back glory to the Empire, all with no loss of life.”
Just the thing for Antarctic travelers, and a worthy addition to the little library devoted to the ever-deserving Shackleton.