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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Lost Men

The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party
by Kelly Tyler-Lewis
384 pages

This is a true story, an adventure story, a story of survival in the harshest environment on earth, and it is a fascinating read. I HIGHLY recommend it.

*** What It Is ***

If you are not familiar with Ernest Shackleton's extraordinary Antarctic expedition (1914-1917) then you are missing out on an amazing piece of history. In short, Shackleton's mission to cross the Antarctic continent failed before it even began, when his ship, The Endurance, was crushed in the ice. Following the destruction of the ship, the crew spent months living on the ice. Only through Shackleton's heroism - and an 800 mile journey in an open boat - were the crew saved ... every last man. (Read more about it here.)

However, the other ship in the expedition, The Aurora, was not so lucky. Their mission was to lay supply depots along the latter portion of the cross-continental trail for Shackleton to pick up.
Yet all went tragically wrong when the Aurora broke free of her moorings in a gale and stranded ten men ashore in Antarctica, woefully ill-equipped to perform their task. Left with little more than the clothing on their backs and scavenged equipment, the men vowed to carry on in the face of impossible odds. Meanwhile, the crew of the disabled Aurora, cast adrift at the mercy of the elements, battled for survival in the pack ice. With no hope of rescue from civilization, the lost men struggled to save themselves and carry out their mission. (from the book's website)
Does that sound amazing or what?!

*** My Thoughts ***

I've always been partial to non-fiction and this book is a prime example of why that is. It is absolutely fascinating and I didn't want to put it down. This stuff REALLY HAPPENED - these are REAL PEOPLE - and their experiences are simply amazing.

The author did an excellent job with the story. The pace never dragged, and I never felt like I was reading a textbook.

The author helpfully provided a list of all the crew aboard each of the ships at the start of the book. There are lots of men, and their introduction into the story was a bit confusing for me simply because it was hard to remember who was who. What I should have done is copied that list and made a few notes next to each name as they were introduced - I think that would have solved the problem nicely.

Here are some random things I'd like to remember from this book:
  • It was Shackleton's personality and ability that was the driving force behind the survival of the men of The Endurance. The Ross Sea Party didn't have a leader of that caliber, hence their experiences on the ice were very different.
  • The spirit of adventure and exploration was common to this era and it came across clearly in the words and actions of the men.
  • Their mission to lay supply depots on the last portion of Shackleton's planned route across Antarctica ended up being completely pointless; Shackleton never even BEGAN the journey. I don't know whether to pity the Ross Sea Party for this or to think of it as their saving grace, giving them a purpose to help them continue on. (Check out a map of the expedition here.)
  • The expedition set out at the start of The Great War. The men expected it to be over by the time they returned. What they found however was a world completely changed, unrecognizable to them. Many of them joined the military as soon as they recovered from their polar ordeal ... and some lost their lives in the war.
This book has been on my TBR list since July 2007 when I read about it in the DearReader.com email. I am SO GLAD that I finally got around to reading it.

*** Other Interesting Links ***
  • The author talks about the book

  • YouTube videos of Shackleton's expedition - includes excerpts from the men's journals and some of their photographs and videos - none from the Ross Sea Party has been posted yet

*** Your Thoughts? ***

Have you read this book? Are you familiar with Shackleton's experiences? I listened to THE ENDURANCE on audio a while back and highly recommend that one as well. Please share your thoughts on any polar-related topic that interests you. Personally I'm fascinated by people who travel to the poles ... but I'd never DREAM of going there myself. What about you?

14 comments:

Ti said...

The Terror.. the book that you and I discussed awhile back is fictional but reminds me very much of this expedition. I think Simmons called it a historical thriller if I remember correctly because The Terror was based on an actual expedition but anyway.. I am rambling now.

Heather J. said...

Ti - I keep going back and forth on that one, but I'm thinking I WILL read it at some point.

Jules said...

This sounds like a great book, thanks for sharing it with us.

Dreamybee said...

I saw something on TV a couple years ago about this expedition. The fact that they all made it back was absolutely amazing. I'm with you-stories about this part of the world are fascinating, but I don't think I'd ever want to go there.

Heather J. said...

Jules - It certainly is! Glad you enjoyed hearing about it.

Dreamybee - I'm completely amazed by Shackleton, but this book does give a slightly more negative portrayal of him than the documentaries I've seen. What it criticizes is really his planning abilities, which he delegated to others and didn't really follow up on himself. Regardless, it is a fascinating story.

Amanda said...

Oh this sounds so fascinating! My husband has a few books on Arctic exploration I've been wanting to read. I'll have to pick this one up too. I think that's why I loved The Terror so much because it was all based on a real expedition and real historical characters. I can't believe what these men went out and tried to accomplish. Gutsy!

bermudaonion said...

I like non-fiction like this - it sounds fascinating!

Heather J. said...

Amanda - Now I REALLY want to read The Terror!

Bermudaonion - I think you'd enjoy it.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I'm with you, I love good nonfiction stories -- I usually get more involved because of that sense of reality behind it. Plus, I learn about stuff I'd never really think about otherwise. This book sounds awesome!

Kim L said...

I saw a movie about this story and it is pretty amazing! I can't imagine what it must have been like to live through such a crazy adventure.

Heather J. said...

Kim #1 - The reality is what gets me too. If I read a fiction book like this, I'd never believe it could really happen!

Kim #2 - *shiver* I don't think I'd really WANT to imagine.

Anna said...

I haven't heard of this, but the book sounds great. Thanks for the recommendation!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

cj said...

I read the book Endurance, about Shackleton, several years ago. I had no idea this book was out there. I may have to read it. Thanks for the review.

cjh

Heather J. said...

CJ - This story provides a real contrast to Shackleton's experiences - I highly recommend it!

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