Endurance tells the story of half of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 – 1917: that of the crew of the Endurance. On a quest to become the first to cross Antarctica on foot, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew never quite made it to land. Their ship became trapped in ice, drifting around the Weddell Sea for months. The movement of the ice began to crush their ship, forcing abandonment, and eventually sinking it completely. The crew then moved onto an ice flow and camped in canvas tents for several more months. Spring came, breaking up the ice and forcing them to make their move. They had three small boats that they then used to cross over to Elephant Island, a very dangerous trip and an inhospitable place for a camp. Camp they did though, while six of the men set off for South Georgia Island eight hundred miles away in a tiny open boat. It was another inhospitable island but they made it through. Then three of the men became the first to traverse the island’s interior to get to the whaling station on the other side. A boat was dispatched to get the three men on the other side of the island immediately, but it took much longer to rescue the remaining men on Elephant Island. After four and a half months, they were rescued. All twenty eight men of the expedition survived.
Written in the 1950s, Alfred Lansing had access to many of the expedition’s diaries, and also interviewed several of them in person. While the story of survival itself is impressive, seeing the men’s actual words is even more so. They were able to survive through two Antarctic winters, where there is almost no daylight, in one set of clothes each, with diminishing supplies at every stage. And they maintained a sort of simple happiness during (most of) the whole ordeal.