“[Ernest] Shackleton today is a cult figure who has assumed a mythical, almost saintly status,” writes journalist Smith (Great Endeavour: Ireland's Antarctic Explorers, 2010, etc.) in this fascinating exploration of the man behind the myth.
Given high honors and knighted by the king, Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) could not find his feet on shore. The author describes him as a paradoxical figure, an inspirational leader who excelled at improvisation when he was on the ice but a restless and impatient person when he was back in England. Unable to “spot a charlatan in a business suit,” Shackleton failed at a series of business ventures and “spent a life in the futile pursuit of riches, [leaving] behind a trail of debts” after his death during a fourth polar venture. Smith ranks Shackleton among the greatest explorers, yet he was held back by a lack of practicality, exemplified by his underestimation of the need for prowess in handling dogs and skis for ease of travel on ice. The author presents a lively account of the race to the South Pole, ultimately won by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911, and the bitter rivalry between Shackleton and his other British contender, Robert Scott. Although they sailed together in 1908, their first polar venture, they were directly contending for financial support as well as high honors. On the first (joint) trip, they succeeded in setting up a base and exploring the terrain, and Shackleton's second venture to the polar region brought him within tantalizing proximity to the pole. Both trips were scientific milestones. A third trip to Antarctica narrowly averted disaster when their ship was destroyed. Launched at the start of World War I, the expedition's sponsors were hard-pressed to find funding for a relief expedition.
An illuminating perspective of the man, his mission and the era in which he lived.