Endurance takes us through the impossible odds of a group of explorers fighting for survival in Antarctica. The group is led by Ernest Shackleton, described as one of the greatest leaders in history.
“Thus, while Shackleton was undeniably out of place, even inept, in a great many everyday situations, he had a talent—a genius, even—that he shared with only a handful of men throughout history—genuine leadership. He was, as one of his men put it, “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.” For all his blind spots and inadequacies, Shackleton merited this tribute: 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. This, then, was the man who developed the idea of crossing the Antarctic continent—on foot.” (Loc 457 of 5053)
The group of twenty-eight survived unfathomable conditions, for over 18 months, in the most isolated and challenging environment in the world. It was a miracle that any of the men, much less all of them, survived.
Typically, I’ve seen Endurance described as a must read book on leadership. After finishing, I find this description surprising. The mere fact that the men survived (and that some didn’t kill each other) clearly confirms that Shackleton must have been an incredible leader. However, the book does not provide insight into the mind of Shackleton, nor do we gain any valuable information about him via the ship’s crew.
In my opinion, the major theme of the book was less about leadership and more about the power of mindset.
The crew somehow maintains optimism despite insufferable circumstances.
“They were castaways in one of the most savage regions of the world, drifting they knew not where, without a hope of rescue, subsisting only so long as Providence sent them food to eat. And yet they had adjusted with surprisingly little trouble to their new life, and most of them were quite sincerely happy. The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances.” Location 1388
I found this example of a crew member who fell into the ice-cold water particularly incredible,
“Then he turned his attention to Holness who was shivering uncontrollably in his soaked clothes. But there weren’t any dry garments to give him because their only clothes were the ones they were wearing. To prevent Holness from freezing, Shackleton ordered that he be kept moving until his own clothes dried. For the rest of the night, the men took turns walking up and down with him. His companions could hear the crackling of his frozen garments, and the tinkle of the ice crystals that fell from him. Though he made no complaint about his clothes, Holness grumbled for hours over the fact that he had lost his tobacco in the water.” Location 2709
The story of the journey and the hardships the men faced were incredible, however I found the book less engaging than I anticipated from all the praise it’s received.
Despite this, Endurance provides amazing details of the capability of man when up against the most challenging of circumstances.
Let me know what you think!