nonfiction nuggets…of ice and men

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and The Endurance, by Jennifer Armstrong, with expedition photos by Frank Hurley

“For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” ~ Apsley Cherry-Garrard, polar explorer, 1922

This is the story of the disaster-ridden Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in 1914-1916.  It is one of the most extraordinary, nearly-unbelievable adventure stories of all time.  In the end, despite the wholesale abandonment of the original expeditionary goals, it is one of the most triumphant calamaties as well.

You probably know the story.  Ernest Shackleton set out in 1914 with a hand-picked crew of hardy explorers, scientists, artists, and one stowaway, in an attempt to cross Antarctica from one side to the other.  The unusual ice pack of that year, however, trapped their ship before they reached the continent, eventually crushing and sinking it before their eyes.  How the men spent an entire Antarctic winter camped in an unreachable frozen wasteland, then miraculously navigated some of Earth’s most perilous seas in a storm-tossed rowboat to reach a barren island; how Shackleton and a skeletal crew then journeyed by boat 800 more treacherous miles to reach inhabited land, and then trekked over unmapped, untraversed, Antarctic mountains to arrive, half-dead at the whaling station; and how the men left behind were all rescued… well, each small detail would be far-fetched if it weren’t all true.  All this, and Shackleton did not lose a single man.

Jennifer Armstrong’s account of this adventure is spellbinding from start to finish, packed with gripping tension and fascinating, humanizing details.  Woven into the saga of these men are helpful, interesting mini-forays into subjects such as Antarctic weather systems, habits of leopard seals, navigation techniques, Antarctic exploration, all of which help us comprehend more the obstacles Shackleton and his men faced.  Archival photos taken by expeditionary photographer Frank Hurley add authentic images to this exceptional story.  If you have not read about Shackleton, you really must.  Ages 10 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link:Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance