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A book for Boris

A book for Boris

When plans to re-print the book of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition fell through, our curator Tim came up with a novel way to make use of his personal copy.


Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expedition is probably the greatest adventure story ever told. The Edwardian explorer sets out to be the first to cross the continent, shortly after Amundsen’s successful race to the Pole, and Scott’s disastrous attempt to do likewise.

The Endurance stuck fast in full sail

Alas, Shackleton never even reaches land, as his ship The Endurance becomes trapped in pack ice just one day's sailing from landfall. The vessel’s name proves fateful, when the crew are then forced to endure an epic and resourceful existence, as their self-contained rescue mission takes almost two full years to realise.

After initially making themselves snug in The Ritz, a heavily reworked habitation in the bowels of the ice-fast ship, the elements conspire against them.

Eventually the interminable pressure of ice collapses the hull, leaving the crew marooned on drifting floes with scant salvaged supplies and three small lifeboats.

Hauling a lifeboat across the ice

The Boss, as Shackleton is universally known by his men, balances true grit with sensitivity in his leadership. His constant obsession with morale sees them safely through, as he shepherds his crew across treacherous ice and seas to temporary camp on a guano smeared sliver of beach at Elephant Island.

Having secured this most meagre of toe holds, Shackleton then separates from the majority of his party, undertaking a seemingly impossible trek to a whaler’s outpost on South Georgia.

Like hitting a bullseye whilst blindfold, the bedraggled company manage to navigate to the pinprick of an island, some 800 miles distant across the most inhospitable seas on the planet in a highly unsuitable small boat.

Even at this miraculous moment, his mission is not complete. Landing on the uninhabited side of the island, Shackleton must then embark on the first crossing of the island's glaciated interior with barely any equipment or rations, before finally finding salvation in the Stromness whaling station.

However, this is not a tale of individual heroism, far from it. This was a team effort with a visionary at the helm.

Rescue from Elephant Island captured by Frank Hurley

Caroline Alexander’s book, ‘The Endurance’, opens with a vision of hope: an incredible photograph capturing the remaining crew celebrating the arrival of their rescuers, from their makeshift camp on Elephant Island.

At a time when we are all enduring our own personal privations, this is a gloriously positive lesson about human resilience and capability, wrung from an encounter with the elements. This hope-filled story characterises the benefit and perspective we always seek from the books we share each month.

Being unable to share this message of hope in the usual way, Tim pondered how to secure some worth from his own personal copy during these challenging times.

It didn’t take long to realise that if our crew couldn’t benefit from this inspiring tale, then perhaps our leaders could. If ever our country was in need of great leadership, it’s now.

Drafting the letter to Boris

Which is why, when Tim drafted his customary handwritten letter to parcel up with the book, instead of addressing it to “My Dear Fellow Adventurer” this one was addressed “Dear Boris”.

"May I suggest that this is a considerable improvement on the jingoistic triumphalism which characterises your preferred pro-colonial propaganda."

Usually only seen by our subscribers, for the first time ever, this letter from Tim is available to view online.

Second hand copies of Caroline Alexander’s ‘The Endurance’ are available online.

There are several illustrated children's books of the expedition, our favourite being Shackleton's Journey by William Grill, available from all good book stores, apart from our own!

National Geographic contrast the incrediblly personal film and photography captured by expedition photographer Frank Hurley, with a rather plummy voiceover, in this short film about the expedition.

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