A book to read by the fire

Finished reading Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Amazing story. Enjoyed it enough to write a short review for Amazon.com:

0375404031.01.MZZZZZZZAfter his team’s victory in Super Bowl XXXVI earlier this month, New England Patriots Coach Bill Bilichick told reporters that one of the keys to his team’s successful season was viewing a movie about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s fateful adventure in Antarctica aboard The Endurance. That was all I needed to finally pick up and read this book I received as a gift a couple years ago. Frankly, I’d presumed it was merely an attempt by some publisher to coat-tail the success of the adventure-gone-awry phenomenon then in vogue, i.e., Into Thin Air, Perfect Storm, etc.

I’ll now admit to living under a rock for not being familiar with the Shackleton story. After reading this book and viewing its incredible photography, I am now in complete understanding of Bilichick’s declaration of the Endurance as the definitive metaphor for boldly facing overwhelming adversity and unbeatable odds; and surviving.

This book is rather unique, in that the quality and abundance of work done by photographer John Hurley during the trip enable the editor to place the photography within the context of the narrative, rather than the usual grouping of photos within a defined section of a book. This apparently required the book to be published on a finer grade of coated paper than usual, which, along with its square shape, gives the book a near “coffee-table” feel without being oversized. Another design device adding a subtle statement that this is an “art” book is the designer’s use of a rather severe ragged-right justification of type.

While it is a book to behold, this is also a book to be read closely. Its use of source diaries and journals gives the story a sense of intimacy. I did not know how the story turns out (but assumed that at least some made it back to civilization with the diaries and photos) so I was lucky to be treated to a page-turner as well.

By sheer coincidence, I read The Endurance immediately after reading the book Down the Great Unknown, a re-telling of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 harrowing survey of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Both are amazing books of challenge, privation, tragedy and perseverance.

Next time you have a team you want to inspire into the Super Bowl, I suggest either of these books.