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Endurance Book Summary, Review, Notes

Endurance is an unbelievable true story about how the Trans-Antarctic expedition led by Ernest Shackleton lost their ship and spent two years trying to get back to civilization in the harshest environment known to mankind—Antarctica.


Book Title: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Author: Alfred Lansing
Date of Reading: June, 2018
Rating: 10/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

Endurance is divided into 7 chapters and a small epilogue. 

The chapters are titled “parts” and they follow the story of the Trans-Atlantic expedition from recruiting the people and the ship Endurance through the catastrophes that happened on the journey, all the way to the salvation of the crew two years later.

The Trans-Atlantic expedition started in 1914 and wanted to be the first to cross Antarctica on foot which was a 3,500-kilometer long journey.

Part 1 follows the recruitment process— finding the crew of 28 people, getting the ship, and traveling from the U.K to South Georgia which was the place from where they started their expedition

This part also covers the year when their ship, Endurance, ended up being frozen in the ice around 100 kilometers away from their destination at Antarctica. 

Part 2 follows the timeline when the ship ended up being crushed by the ice and the crew had to abandon it. And with it, they had to abandon their mission and start heading toward Paulet Island for rescue (550 kilometers to the north).

Part 3 follows their journey across the ice floes of Antarctica and how they managed to miss Paulet Island and went even further north.

Part 4 explains the arduous journey of getting to Clarence and Elephant Island which were the last two islands before the open ocean. If they missed those islands, they would be doomed. 

The crew spent 5 days in the small boats with less than 8 hours of sleep in total.

Part 5 follows the situation at the Elephant Island— how the crew created shelter there and how Shackleton decided to take five people with him and, in a small and open boat, cross more than 1,300 kilometers and get to the island of South Georgia to get rescue.

Part 6 covers the journey of Caird, the small boat that took Shackleton and five more men across the Drake Passage, the worst and the deadliest sea on the face of the Earth. 

The part ends up with Shackleton and his five men finally getting to the island of South Georgia.

Part 7 starts by explaining to us that Shackleton landed on the wrong side of the South Georgia island and that they needed to cross it on foot. 

The only problem was that the terrain was literally unpassable by anyone on foot, yet Shackleton and two more men managed to do it in three days.

Epilogue explains the aftermath of Shackleton getting to the station at South Georgia. He got a big ship and went to rescue his crew. 

It took him three tries (and four months) until he got to his crew to save them. In the end, all 28 people who started this adventure survived this incredible journey.

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:

Part I

“The order to abandon ship was given at 5 P.M.”

“If they were to get out—they had to get themselves out.”

“Shackleton’s order to abandon ship, while it signaled the beginning of the greatest of all Antarctic adventures, also sealed the fate of one of the most ambitious of all Antarctic expeditions. 

The goal of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, as its name implies, was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east.”

“There can be little doubt that Shackleton, in his way, was an extraordinary leader of men.”

”For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

“motto of his family, Fortitudine vincimus—”By endurance we conquer.”

“Despite the instantaneous nature of these decisions, Shackleton’s intuition for selecting compatible men rarely failed.

“Shackleton summed up his feelings: “. . . now comes the actual work itself . . . the fight will be good.”

“The Endurance was beset. As Orde-Lees, the storekeeper, put it, “frozen, like an almond in the middle of a chocolate bar.”

“Nor was there now any chance of landing the party that was to cross the continent. The drift of the pack since the Endurance was beset had carried them to within about 60 miles of Vahsel Bay—a tantalizingly short distance, it would seem. 

But 60 miles over hummocky ice with God knows how many impassable tracks of open water in between, carrying at least a year’s supply of rations and equipment, plus the lumber for a hut—and all this behind sledges drawn by ill-conditioned and untrained dogs. 

No, 60 miles could be a very long way, indeed.”

“In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age —no warmth, no life, no movement. 

Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.”

“they took to walking in a circle around the ship. The route came to be known as “madhouse promenade.”

“followed by the toast, “To our sweethearts and wives.” Invariably a chorus of voices added, “May they never meet.”

“The whole party had been cheered by the sun’s refracted image appearing over the horizon for one minute just after noon. It was the first time they had seen it in seventy-nine days. But it did not quite offset the general uneasiness.”

Part II

“The plan, as they all knew, was to march toward Paulet Island, 346 miles to the northwest, where the stores left in 1902 should still be. 

The distance was farther than from New York City to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they would be dragging two of their three boats with them, since it was assumed that they would eventually run into open water.”

“Each man, he said, would be allowed the clothes on his back, plus two pairs of mittens, six pairs of socks, two pairs of boots, a sleeping bag, a pound of tobacco—and two pounds of personal gear.”

“He wrote in his diary that same night: “The rapidity with which one can completely change one’s ideas . . . and accommodate ourselves to a state of barbarism is wonderful.”

“Shackleton that night noted simply in his diary that the Endurance was gone, and added: “I cannot write about it.” And so they were alone. 

Now, in every direction, there was nothing to be seen but the endless ice. Their position was 68°38½′ South, 52°28′ West—a place where no man had ever been before, nor could they conceive that any man would ever want to be again.”

“It was therefore particularly apt, and exactly fitted Shackleton’s outlook and behavior. He wanted to appear familiar with the men. He even worked at it, insisting on having exactly the same treatment, food, and clothing. 

He went out of his way to demonstrate his willingness to do the menial chores, such as taking his turn as “Peggy” to get the mealtime pot of hoosh from the galley to his tent. 

And he occasionally became furious when he discovered that the cook had given him preferential treatment because he was the “Boss.”

“In essence the note said that the Endurance had been crushed and abandoned at 69°5 ́ South, 51°35 ́ West, and that the members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition were then at 67°9 ́ South, 52°25 ́ West,”

“Most of the men wore heavy Burberry-Durox boots—ankle-high leather boots with gaberdine uppers reaching to the knee—designed for marching on hard ice. 

But as the party struggled over the slushy floes, those boots continually filled with water. In the soaked state, each weighed about 7 pounds. It was an exhausting exertion at every step to liftone foot and then the other out of 2-foot holes full of snowy slush.”

Part III

“Many of them, it seemed, finally grasped for the first time just how desperate things really were. More correctly, they became aware of their own inadequacy, of how utterly powerless they were.”

“This indomitable self-confidence of Shackleton’s took the form of optimism. And it worked in two ways: it set men’s souls on fire; as Macklin said, just to be in his presence was an experience. It was what made Shackleton so great a leader.”

”Wonderful, amazing splendid,” Shackleton wrote. “Lat. 65°43′ South—73 miles North drift. The most cheerful good fortune for a year for us: We cannot be much more than 170 miles from Paulet. 

Everyone greeted the news with cheers. The wind still continues. We may get another 10 miles out of it. Thank God.”

“Our distance from Paulet I. is now 94 miles which means we have completed ¾ of the distance we had to do when we got on the floe. I wonder if we shall ever get there.”

“My opinion is that the chances of getting to Paulet Island now are about 1 in 10. . . .”

“By evening everyone was satisfied that the open ocean lay, at most, 30 miles away.”

“pushing them north, James observed darkly: “Paulet Island probably already to the South of us.”

“Yet frustrating as it was, the sight of land was welcome, as James noted, if for no other reason than “it is nearly 16 months since we last saw any black rock.”

“During the past twenty-four hours they had scarcely gone north at all—2 miles at most. Instead they had covered 16 miles to the east.”

“It was one-thirty in the afternoon when the crews scrambled on board each boat; they put out every available oar and pulled with all their strength for the open water. Even as they drew away from Patience Camp, the ice began to close.”

Part IV

“That soot-blackened floe which had been their prison for nearly four months—whose every feature they knew so well, as convicts know each crevice of their cells; which they had come to despise, but whose preservation they had prayed for so often—belonged now to the past.”

“Clarence Island lay just 39 miles almost due north. By sailing northwest, they had reduced that distance to about 25 miles NNE, Worsley estimate”

“Cheeks were drained and white, eyes were bloodshot from the salt spray and the fact that the men had slept only once in the past four days.”

Alfred Lansing Quote

“As the sun climbed a fraction higher, they saw off the starboard bow the peaks of Clarence Island, and a little later, Elephant Island, dead ahead—the Promised Land, no more than 30 miles away. In the joy of that moment, Shackleton called to Worsley to congratulate him on his navigation, and Worsley, stiff with cold, looked away in proud embarrassment.”

“Hour after hour they rowed, and the outline of Elephant Island slowly grew larger. At noon, they had covered almost half the distance; by one-thirty they were less than 15 miles away. 

They had had no sleep for almost eighty hours, and their bodies had been drained by exposure and effort of almost the last vestige of vitality. 

But the conviction that they had to land by nightfall gave rise to a strength born of desperation. It was pull or perish, and ignoring their sickening thirst, they leaned on their oars with what seemed the last of their strength.”

“They had been in the boats now for five and a half days, and during that time almost everyone had come to look upon Worsley in a new light. 

In the past he had been thought of as excitable and wild—even irresponsible. But all that was changed now. During these past days he had exhibited an almost phenomenal ability, both as a navigator and in the demanding skill of handling a small boat. 

There wasn’t another man in the party even comparable with him, and he had assumed an entirely new stature because of it.”

“Gradually, the surface of the sea became discernible. And there, dead ahead, were the enormous gray-brown cliffs of Elephant Island rising out of the mists, sheer from the water, high above the boat —and less than a mile away. 

The distance seemed no more than a few hundred yards. There was no great joy in that moment. Only a feeling of astonishment which soon gave way to a sense of tremendous relief.”

“They were on land. It was the merest handhold, 100 feet wideand 50 feet deep. A meager grip on a savage coast, exposed to the full fury of the sub-Antarctic Ocean. 

But no matter—they were on land. For the first time in 497 days they were on land. Solid, unsinkable, immovable, blessed land.”

Part V

“It was April 20, a day notable for only one reason: Shackleton finally made official what everyone had expected for a long time. 

He would take a party of five men and set sail in the Caird for South Georgia to bring relief. They would leave as soon as the Caird could be made ready and provisioned for the trip.”

“There were three possible objectives. The nearest of these was Cape Horn, the island of Tierra del Fuego—”Land of Fire,” which lay about 500 miles to the northwest Next was the settlement of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, some 550 miles very nearly due north. 

Finally there was South Georgia, slightly more than 800 miles to the northeast. Though the distance to South Georgia was more than half again as far as the journey to Cape Horn, weather conditions made South Georgia the most sensible choice.”

“Shackleton had already made up his mind, after long discussions with Wild, not only as to who should be taken, but who should not be left behind.”

“The Caird caught the wind, and Worsley at the helm swung her bow toward the north. “They made surprising speed for such a small craft,” Orde-Lees recorded. 

“We watched them until they were out of sight, which was not long, for such a tiny boat was soon lost to sight on the great heaving ocean; as she dipped into the trough of each wave, she disappeared completely, sail and all.”

”Life here without a hut and equipment is almost beyond endurance.” But little by little, as the wind revealed their vulnerable spots, they sealed them up, and each day the shelter became just a little more livable.”

”It is hard to realize one’s position here,” Macklin wrote, “living in a smoky, dirty, ramshackle little hut with only just sufficient room to cram us all in: drinking out of a common pot . . . and laying in close proximity to a man with a large discharging abscess—a horrible existence, but yet we are pretty happy. . . .”

“August 1 was the anniversary of the day, two years before, when the Endurance had sailed from London, and one year before, when she had sustained her first serious pressure. Hurley summed it up:”

Part VI

“Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. 

It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.”

“By noon on April 26, they had logged a total of 128 miles from Elephant Island without encountering a sign of ice.”

“59°46′ South, 52°18′ West, and it put the Caird a scant 14 miles north of the 60th parallel of latitude. 

Thus they had just crept over the line separating the “Raving Fifties” from the “Screaming Sixties,” so called because of the weather that prevails there”

“The waves thus produced have become legendary among seafaring men. They are called Cape Horn Rollers or “graybeards.” 

Their length has been estimated from crest to crest to exceed a mile, and the terrified reports of some mariners have placed their height at 200 feet, though scientists doubt that they very often exceed 80 or 90 feet. 

How fast they travel is largely a matter of speculation, but many sailormen have claimed their speed occasionally reaches 55 miles an hour. Thirty knots is probably a more accurate figure.”

”The sight . . . is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about death, peril and shipwreck.”

“just before noon a rift appeared in the sky, and Worsley hurriedly got his sextant. He was just in time, for a few minutes later the sun smiled down for one wintry flicker and then was gone. 

But Worsley had his sight, and Shackleton had recorded the chronometer reading. 

When the position was worked out, it put the Caird at 58°38′ South, 50°0′ West—they had covered 238 miles since leaving Elephant Island, six days before. They were almost one-third of the way.”

“He then compared it with the chart and it appeared to correspond to the area of Cape Demidov. If so, it meant that his navigation had been very nearly faultless. 

They were only about 16 miles from the western tip of the island, the point for which they had originally been aiming.”

“that they were only a short distance outside the line of breakers, the point at which the seas ceased to behave like swells and became combers instead, rushing faster and faster toward their own destruction against the land. 

As each swell passed under them they could feel it tugging momentarily at the boat, trying to get hold of her and hurl her toward the beach. 

It seemed now that everything—the wind, the current, and even the sea itself—were united in a single, determined purpose—once and for all to annihilate this tiny boat which thus far had defied all their efforts to destroy it.”

“The bailers stopped and everybody looked up and saw the stars shining to leeward. The island was no longer in the way. 

They had no idea how, even why—perhaps some unexpected eddy of the tide had driven them offshore. But no one then stopped to seek an explanation. They knew only one thing —the boat had been spared.”

“Hurriedly they ran up every sail to its full height and headed for the narrow opening in the reefs. 

But it meant sailing straight into the wind, and the Caird simply could not do it. Four times they lay off, and four times they tried to tack into the wind. Four times they failed.”

“As quickly as they could, the other men scrambled after him. It was five o’clock on the tenth of May, 1916, and they were standing at last on the island from which they had sailed 522 days before. 

They heard a trickling sound. Only a few yards away a little stream of fresh water was running down from the glaciers high above. A moment later all six were on their knees, drinking.”

Part VII

“By sea it would have been a voyage of more than 130 miles out around the western tip of the island and then along the north coast. By land it was a scant 29 miles in a straight line.”

“three-quarters of a century that men had been coming to South Georgia, not one man had ever crossed the island—for the simple reason that it could not be done.”

“You have ample seal food which you can supplement with birds and fish according to your skill. You are left with a double barrelled gun, 50 cartridges [and other rations] . . . 

You also have all the necessary equipment to support life for an indefinite period in the event of my non-return. You had better after winter is over try and sail around to the East Coast. 

The course I am making towards Husvik is East magnetic. I trust to have you relieved in a few days.”

“By seven o’clock, however, the sun had risen high enough to burn away the last traces of the fog, and they suddenly saw that the lake extended all the way to the horizon. 

They were marching toward Possession Bay—the open sea, on the northern coast of South Georgia.”

“The blizzards of South Georgia are considered among the worst on earth.”

“And so the decision was made. Shackleton said they would slide as a unit, holding onto one another. They quickly sat down and untied the rope which held them together. 

Each of them coiled up his share to form a mat. Worsley locked his legs around Shackleton’s waist and put his arms around Shackleton’s neck. Crean did the same with Worsley. They looked like three tobogganers without a toboggan.”

“If Shackleton had heard the steam whistle at Stromness, it should blow again to call the men to work at seven o’clock. It was 6:50 . . . then 6:55. 

They hardly even breathed for fear of making a sound. 6:58 . . . 6:59. . . . Exactly to the second, the hoot of the whistle carried through the thin morning air. They looked at one another and smiled. Then they shook hands without speaking.”

“Spread out beneath them, 2,500 feet below, was Stromness Whaling Station. A sailing ship was tied up to one of the wharfs and a small whale catcher was entering the bay. 

They saw the tiny figures of men moving around the docks and sheds. For a very long moment they stared without speaking. There didn’t really seem to be very much to say, or at least anything that needed to be said. “Let’s go down,” Shackleton said quietly.”

“Mathias Andersen was the station foreman at Stromness. He had never met Shackleton, but along with everyone else at South Georgia he knew that the Endurance had sailed from there in 1914 . . . and had undoubtedly been lost with all hands in the Weddell Sea.”

”Would you please take us to Anton Andersen,” he said softly. The foreman shook his head. Anton Andersen was not at Stromness any longer, he explained. He had been replaced by the regular factory manager, Thoralf Sørlle. 

The Englishman seemed pleased. “Good,” he said. “I know Sørlle well.” The foreman led the way to Sørlle’s house, about a hundred yards off to the right. 

Almost all the workmen on the pier had left their jobs to come see the three strangers who had appeared at the dock. Now they lined the route, looking curiously at the foreman and his three companions.”

”My name is Shackleton,” he replied in a quiet voice. Again there was silence. Some said that Sørlle turned away and wept.”


“The crossing of South Georgia has been accomplished only by one other party. That was almost forty years later, in 1955, by a British survey team under the able leadership of Duncan Carse. 

That party was made up of expert climbers and was well equipped with everything needed for the journey. Even so, they found it treacherous going.”

”In distance,” Carse wrote, “they are nowhere more than 10 miles apart; in difficulty, they are hardly comparable. “We to-day are travelling easily and unhurriedly. We are fit men, with our sledges and tents and ample food and time. 

We break new ground but with the leisure and opportunity to probe ahead. We pick and choose our hazards, accepting only the calculated risk. No lives depend upon our success— except our own. We take the high road. 

“They—Shackleton, Worsley and Crean . . . took the low road. “I do not know how they did it, except that they had to—three men of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration with 50 feet of rope between them—and a carpenter’s adze.”

“Their spokesman, speaking in Norse with Sørlle translating, said that they had sailed the Antarctic seas for forty years, and that they wanted to shake the hands of the men who could bring an open 22-foot boat from Elephant Island through the Drake Passage to South Georgia.”

“Then every man in that room stood up, and the four old skippers took Shackleton and Worsley and Crean by the hand and congratulated them on what they had done. 

Many of the whalemen were bearded and dressed in heavy sweaters and sea boots. There was no formality, no speeches. 

They had no medals or decorations to bestow—only their heartfelt admiration for an accomplishment which perhaps only they would ever fully appreciate. 

And their sincerity lent to the scene a simple but profoundly moving solemnity. 

Of the honors that followed—and there were many—possibly none ever exceeded that night of May 22, 1916, when, in a dingy warehouse shack on South Georgia, with the smell of rotting whale carcasses in the air, the whalermen of the southern ocean stepped forward one by one and silently shook hands with Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean. 

The following morning, less than seventy-two hours after arriving at Stromness from across the mountains, Shackleton and his two companions set out for Elephant Island.”

Alfred Lansing Quote 2

“A third attempt was made in a balky wooden schooner, the Emma, which Shackleton chartered. 

She was at sea for nearly three weeks, during which it was a struggle merely to keep her afloat—much less to effect a rescue. The Emma never approached Elephant Island closer than 100 miles.”

“Instead he appealed to the Chilean government for the use of an ancient sea-going tug, the Yelcho. 

He promised not to take her into any ice, for she was steel-hulled and her ability to weather the sea— much less any pack—was doubtful. 

The request was granted, and the Yelcho sailed on August 25. This time the fates were willing. Five days later, on August 30, Worsley logged: “5.25 am Full speed . . . 11.10 [A.M.] . . . base of land faintly visible. Threading: our way between lumps ice, reefs, & grounded bergs. 1.10 Sight the PM Camp to sw. . . .”

“It had been four months and six days since the Caird had left, and there was not a man among them who still believed seriously that she had survived the journey to South Georgia.”

”Hadn’t we better send up some smoke signals?” he asked. For a moment there was silence, and then, as one man, they grasped what Marston was saying. 

“Before there was time for a reply,” Orde-Lees recorded, “there was a rush of members tumbling over one another, all mixed up with mugs of seal hoosh, making a simultaneous dive for the door-hole which was immediately torn to shreds so that those members who could not pass through it, on account of the crush, made their exits through the ‘wall,’ or what remained of it.”

“The ship approached to within several hundred yards, then stopped. The men ashore could see a boat being lowered. Four men got into it, followed by the sturdy, square-set figure they knew so well —Shackleton. 

A spontaneous cheer went up. In fact the excitement ashore was so intense that many men actually were giggling.”

“Finally he logged: “2.10 All Well! At last! 2.15 Full speed ahead.” Macklin wrote: “I stayed on deck to watch Elephant Island recede in the distance . . . 

I could still see myBurberry [jacket] flapping in the breeze on the hillside—no doubt it will flap there to the wonderment of gulls and penguins till one of our familiar [gales] blows it all to ribbons.”

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

There’s a reason they call Shackleton’s time The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. This story is incredible in all its facets. 

First of all, Shackleton’s leadership was impeccable and everyone working in any leadership role should follow his example. Secondly, the sheer amount of life in these people was outstanding. All they wanted to do is to survive and, in the end, all 28 people managed to do it. 

And Alfred Lansing immortalized all of that in the story of Endurance. I highly recommend this book and it was the best book I read in 2018.

Rating: 10/10

This Book Is For (Recommend):

  • A professional working in a leadership role
  • A millennial facing difficulties in life
  • Anyone who wants to be inspired by the sheer determination of the human race

If You Want To Learn More

Here’s a documentary made by National Geographic about Shackleton’s journey.
Survival! The Story

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

Shackleton’s family motto was: Fortitudine vincimus—By endurance we conquer. So I started looking at the challenges in my life as obstacles that I can pass if I work hard on them for a long time. I just need to endure to conquer.

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

Shackleton’s leadership was amazing because he was multifaceted. He would talk with his photographer about photography, with the biologists about biology, with his cook about the food, and with his second-in-command about the motivation of the entire crew. 

He did all of this to keep their spirit alive in the harshest environment possible.

What you can do is approach people in your life and show an active interest in what they’re interested in and in what they want to talk about. Next time you start a conversation with someone, actively talk about the topic of their interest and see how far it gets you.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing - Book Summary Infographic