The best Ernest Shackleton books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Ernest Shackleton and why they recommend each book.

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By Ernest Shackleton,

Book cover of South: The ENDURANCE Expedition

Antarctic explorer Raymond Priestly famously said, “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” After reading South, Shackleton’s own account of his disastrous attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, you’ll understand why Priestly would choose this brawny, charismatic adventurer over all others. Published in 1919, South is a chronicle of the events that unfolded on board, and then off-board, the Endurance between 1915-1917. Trapped by pack ice in the Weddell Sea, the 28-man crew had to abandon the ship after it was crushed and subsequently sank.

What follows are a series of events that strains credulity. From soccer games played on drifting ice floes and tragic deaths in service to the survival of others to one of the most iconic adventures of all time—Shackleton’s…

Who am I?

I’m a Minnesotan, so I thought I was a cold-weather badass, but it wasn’t until my younger sister winter-overed at South Pole Station in the early 2000s that I realized that Minnesota is a balmy paradise compared with the ice chip at the bottom of the earth. Her adventures at 90 South inspired my interest in Antarctica, the history of how humans interact with extreme and dangerous natural environments, and the social dynamics of a community trying to survive in the most remote location on the planet. That interest grew so intense that I ended up spending four years researching and then writing a novel set on the seventh continent—South Pole Station.

I wrote...

South Pole Station

By Ashley Shelby,

Book cover of South Pole Station

What is my book about?

Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority? How many alcoholic drinks to you consume a week? Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver? These are some of the questions that determine if you have what it takes to survive at South Pole Station, a place with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year. Cooper Gosling has just answered five hundred of them. Her results indicate she is abnormal enough for Polar life.

Unmoored by a recent family tragedy, Cooper’s adrift at thirty and—despite her early promise as a painter—on the verge of sinking her career. So she accepts her place in the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica, where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own. Then a fringe scientist arrives, claiming climate change is a hoax. His presence will rattle this already-imbalanced community, bringing Cooper and the Polies to the center of a global controversy and threatening the ancient ice chip they call home.


By Ernest Shackleton,

Book cover of South!: The Story of Shackleton's, 1914-1917

Ernest Shackleton was Scott’s rival and companion, the one who was smart enough not to die. A later Antarctic explorer, Sir Raymond Priestly, famously said, “For scientific discovery give me Scott. For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen. But when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Shackleton’s last expedition was the stuff of legend. His ship the Endurance was trapped in the ice for ten months, and finally crushed by the ice and sunk. Shackleton marshalled his men to march across the floes dragging their boat, and then they sailed across the polar seas to Elephant Island where they finally were rescued more than two years after they set out. It’s an almost unbelievable feat.

Who am I?

I'm a science fiction writer. If you write about time travel, one of the things you have to worry about is changing the past, the ‘gun for a dinosaur’ effect. If you go to the past and kill that dinosaur, will it affect the present? Maybe that dinosaur was the ancestor of all mammals. So, if you want to steal something from the past and bring it to now, you have to choose carefully. Something that has left no biological footprint. When I got that far, I remembered that Titus Oates walked off into the storm in Antarctica, never to be seen again, to save his companions. His body is still out there, frozen in a glacier … or is it?

I wrote...

Revise the World

By Brenda Clough,

Book cover of Revise the World

What is my book about?

He said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since. On March 16, 1912, British polar explorer Titus Oates commits suicide by walking out of his tent into an Antarctic blizzard, to save Robert Falcon Scott and the other members of the English exploration team. His body is never found — because he was snatched away into the year 2045 by scientists experimenting with a new faster-than-light drive.

The first section of this novel appeared as a novella in Analog Science Fiction magazine (April 2001) under the title “May Be Some Time.” It was a finalist for both the Nebula and the Hugo awards.

Shackleton's Boat Journey

By Frank Arthur Worsley,

Book cover of Shackleton's Boat Journey

A real-life survival story written by Captain Frank Worsley, one of the participants. Six men, part of the 1908 Shackleton expedition that was shipwrecked in Antarctica pack ice for fourteen months, set off in an open boat across eight hundred miles of ocean to South Georgia Island for help, leaving the rest of the crew on Elephant Island awaiting rescue. There are a lot of books on sea adventures gone bad, but Shackleton's Boat Journey is my favorite because it is told by one of the survivors. Frank Worsley's account demonstrates how teamwork, fortitude, endurance, and luck work together to save them from disaster.

Who am I?

Linda Collison's composite career has included critical care and emergency nursing, freelance writing and novelist, and teaching skydiving. She has sailed many bluewater miles with her husband, Bob Russell, aboard their sloop Topaz, based in Hawaii. Their three-week sailing experience aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook's three-masted 18th century ship, inspired Linda to write Star-Crossed, an historical novel published by Knopf in 2006, and a New York Public Library pick in 2007 for Books for the Teen Age. Star-Crossed has been republished as the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series from Fireship Press. Her sailing experiences also inspired the novel Water Ghosts, a Foreword Reviews finalist for Independent Book of the Year, 2015.

I wrote...

Water Ghosts

By Linda Collison,

Book cover of Water Ghosts

What is my book about?

"I see things other people don't see; I hear things other people don't hear." Fifteen-year-old James McCafferty is an unwilling sailor aboard a traditional Chinese Junk operated as adventure therapy for troubled teens. Once at sea, James believes the ship is being taken over by the spirits of courtiers who fled the Imperial palace during the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years earlier, and sailing to its doom. A psychological nautical adventure with strong historical and paranormal elements.


By Nick Bertozzi,

Book cover of Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

Including this book is a bit of a cheat, since it’s not actually about space. But the spirit of Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance crew’s journey to the Antarctic has permeated space exploration – the Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole is an intriguing potential landing site for future astronauts. While no one in “Shackleton” leaves the planet, the story this book tells about humanity’s passion for exploration, the risks of the unknown, and about endurance in the face of adversity is well worth reading for those passionate about our outward odyssey.

Who am I?

When I was five years old, my father sat down with me in front of the television and we watched together as the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time. Four decades later, I’ve authored a history of those early shuttle missions, been a part of developing future space missions, and, most importantly of all, watched several space firsts with my own son. Space exploration is humanity at its greatest – working together using the best of our abilities to overcome incredible challenges and improve life here on Earth – and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share that inspiration with others.

I wrote...

Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

By David Hitt, Owen Garriott, Joe Kerwin

Book cover of Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

What is my book about?

As the United States and the Soviet Union went from exploring space to living in it, a space station was conceived as the logical successor to the Apollo moon program. But between conception and execution there was the vastness of space itself, to say nothing of monumental technological challenges. Homesteading Space, by two of Skylab’s own astronauts and a NASA journalist, tells the dramatic story of America’s first space station from beginning to fiery end.

Homesteading Space is much more than a story of technological and scientific success; it is also an absorbing, sometimes humorous, often inspiring account of the determined, hardworking individuals who shepherded the program through a near-disastrous launch, a heroic rescue, and an exhausting study of Comet Kohoutek, as well as the lab's ultimate descent into the Indian Ocean. 


By Nicola Pierce,

Book cover of Titanic: True Stories of Her Passengers, Crew and Legacy

Nicola Pierce’s Titanic: True Stories of Her Passengers, Crew and Legacy details not only Titanic’s story, but her sister’s tragedies. It questions whether Bruce Ismay was really a villain and poses the idea that he might be a hero; it critically examines Captain Smith’s behaviour the night of the sinking. It follows the events of the Carpathia and Californian, lending insight into what happened on both ships that night, reminding us the Titanic didn’t just hit an iceberg: She was trapped in an iceberg field. It finishes on the Mackay-Bennett, the funeral ship sent to ferry back as many of Titanic’s dead as they could, reminding us that the tragedy didn’t end on the 15th of April, but would continue for months on end – and for many, years. 

Pierce’s novel was one of my biggest sources for my book. I’d heard of the Mackay-Bennett funeral…

Who am I?

I’m a bibliophile who loves dogs and prefers the country to the city. I’m the kid who yelled at my kindergarten teacher because she hadn’t taught me to read by the end of the year. That same tenacity followed me when, at seven years old, I learned that James Cameron was making a movie based on the Titanic. With righteous fury, I yelled at my befuddled parents, before asking why they had not told me about this ship. I pleaded with my parents to take me to see the movie for my upcoming eighth birthday, and they relented, with my mum buying my first fictional Titanic novel. That’s how my Titanic obsession began.

I wrote...

The Light In The Darkness: A Titanic Novel (Book One)

By Carla Louise Robinson, Olivia Designs (illustrator),

Book cover of The Light In The Darkness: A Titanic Novel (Book One)

What is my book about?

I’ve read almost everything I can on the Titanic. I’ve collected special edition non-fiction books. I’ve watched everything there is. I’ve played every game I can. And no matter how compelling the story I always felt let down, because almost all Titanic media peddled things I’d long learnt were myths. I hated that Bruce Ismay was branded a coward, when that was the furthest thing from the truth. I hated that the characters in any story always seemed to know the ship was sinking, that wasn’t the truth at all. The engineers, along with Lead Fireman Fred Barrett, fought to save that ship. I wanted people to know why the Californian didn’t respond, and that even if they’d heard the SOS, they wouldn’t have reached the Titanic in time.

The Endurance

By Caroline Alexander,

Book cover of The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

In an amazing feat of leadership and critical decision-making under the most stressful circumstances imaginable, Ernest Shackleton managed to save his entire crew – despite their ship being crushed in the ice pack of Antarctica. His decisions from start to finish risked everything – hiking to the edge of the sea, sailing one of the ship’s small boats on a voyage to a distant outpost, bringing help back, and saving the crew. His decisions inspired me in the many expeditions I led as a naval officer, none of which were as challenging as what he faced.

Who am I?

I am a retired 4-star Admiral who spent over forty years at sea, rising from Midshipman at the Naval Academy to Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. Along the way, I served in and commanded destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers in combat, and I have faced many very difficult decisions under extreme pressure. In addition, I’ve been in the Pentagon for many assignments, including as Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense – which also created countless high-pressure decisions. What I learned in the Navy has helped me again and again in calculating risk and making the right decisions. 

I wrote...

To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision

By James G. Stavridis,

Book cover of To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision

What is my book about?

The hardest decisions we make are those that occur under extreme pressure. At the heart of my training as a naval officer was the preparation to lead sailors in combat, to face the decisive moment in battle whenever it might arise. In To Risk it All, you will meet nine men and women who face conflict, crisis, and risk. The lessons you learn will help you make the hardest of decisions. Let’s get underway!

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