Monday, March 17, 2008

Endurance

On June 1, 1916, the following story appeared on page 1 of the New York Times:



On December 5, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton, on the Endurance, left the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia island in order to land an expedition party intending to cross the continent of Antartica on foot for the first time. The ship was caught in the ice in the Weddell Sea, and eventually crushed. In one of the most incredible feats ever recorded, all 28 men made it back to civilization.

I just finished re-reading the definitive account, Alfred Lansing's 1959 classic, Endurance. While the voyage has been publicized in the last decade, with the Branagh movie and the bestselling leadership book, there's a lot of the story that I was struck by on the re-reading.

The name of Lansing's book is Endurance, and it's appropriate. And not just because the name of the ship that carried them south was Endurance. (Shackleton named the ship because his family motto was Fortitudine Vincimus — "by endurance we conquer.") The way that they managed to cross the ice, the way that they crossed the sea, the traversal of South Georgia (which had never been done, and wouldn't be repeated for forty years) - all incredible feats. But the endurance that struck me this time was in the little things - the spending of two years constantly cold, wet and hungry, living in unspeakable conditions, in close quarters and conditions of desperate uncertainty and managing to continue working. Just enduring without succombing to insanity, without lying down and dying.

It is an amazing story...

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