Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ernest Shackleton: Gripped by the Antarctic

Ernest Shackleton: Gripped by the Antarctic

Rebecca L. Johnson
For ages 10 and up
Lerner Publishing Group, 2003   ISBN: 978-0876149201

Ernest Shackleton’s father had hoped that his eldest son would become a doctor but Ernest had no interest in a medical career. More than anything, he wanted to go to sea. Not wanting to force his son to do something which he hated, Ernest’s father let Ernest join the merchant navy.

Ernest did very well in the merchant navy and greatly enjoyed traveling around the world. By the time he was twenty-four Ernest had earned the rank of master which qualified him to command any British ship. He was given good jobs but Ernest was restless. He wanted to do something more exciting and he wanted to do something which would give him the means to earn enough to marry his lady love, Emily Dorman.

So Ernest asked for a friend’s help and he managed to get a position on the National Antarctic Expedition which was being led by Robert Falcon Scott. Ernest hoped that being a part of the expedition would be the making of him. Scott hoped to reach the South Pole, an achievement which would delight the British people.

Ernest couldn’t have been happier when Scott told him that he had been chosen to accompany Scott on the mission to get to the South Pole. Unfortunately the three man team did not succeed. They had to turn back at eighty-two degrees, seventeen minutes south. Their food was running out and they were all in a very weakened state. Most of their sled dogs were dead and if they did not turn back they would surely die themselves.

Bitterly disappointed by their failure to reach the pole, Scott took out his anger on Ernest, blaming him for the mission’s lack of success. Being blamed in this way only made Ernest more determined that he would get to the pole one day.

He did get the opportunity to try to get to the pole in 1909 when he led his own expedition to Antarctica. This time his four man team got to eighty-seven degrees twenty-two minutes south. But they too had to turn back because of a lack of food and illness.

Ernest was hoping that he would be able to have another crack at the pole when the whole world heard that Roald Amundsen had reached the pole in December, 1911. Scott reached the pole not long after but he, unlike Amundsen, never got home. Scott and his team died on their way back to camp.

What was there left for Ernest to do? He decided that he would be the first person to cross Antarctica. Though he did not succeed in this endeavor, he and his crew had one of the most extraordinary adventures in the history of such expeditions. Most remarkable of all, despite the fact that their ship was destroyed by pack ice and that they were forced to travel on foot and by sea for almost a year, not a single member of Shackleton’s crew died. Shackleton always put the well-being of his men first and he was determined that he would get them all home.

Readers of this book will soon come to appreciate that though Ernest Shackelton was indeed in the thrall of the Antarctic, he was also the kind of person who cared deeply about the people who worked with him. He was a born leader, and his men had great confidence in him. They knew that he would think of their needs first and foremost.

This title has numerous period black and white photographs throughout which compliment the text and show readers what it was like to be an polar explorer in the early 1900’s. Well written and carefully researched, this is one of the titles in the “Trailblazer Biography” series.