MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

Don’t look in these pages for another Ernest Shackleton adventure or for a repeat of the Jeannette disaster. This is a different story of death and survival in an ego driven pursuit of Antarctic exploration and the South Pole. Belgium, as described by author Julian Sancton, is an unlikely contender in the race for glory in charting the icy subcontinent. The same is true for the expedition’s leader, Adrien de Gerlache, well-intentioned but severely lacking in seamanship and funding. Despite his shortcomings, de Gerlache manages to raise funds and crew the refitted Belgica. Among those recruited for the expedition, Roald Amundsen who would later out race the ill-fated Robert Scott quest for claiming the South Pole. Also aboard was one American, Dr. Frederick Cook who later in 1908 would claim to have reached the North Pole. MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH is an exact description of what occurs when dreams of glory steer a ship deep into the polar ice of the Bellingshausen Sea. The outcome is inevitable, months locked in the Antarctic ice, worsened by the disappearance of daylight. Sancton’s book becomes a study of the day by day, hour by hour mental and physical deterioration of all on board. Miraculously, only two members of the expedition would die, one of whom fell overboard in a storm, prior to the ship’s entombment. Author Sancton poured over personal diaries and the ships logs and emerged from his research with vivid detail of how loneliness, hopelessness and physical deterioration effect humans.  His telling of the story takes on the character of a well written novel. Sunlight returned, the pack ice relented, and after nearly a three years journey, despite failing to reach the South Pole, the Belgica returned to a glorious reception in Belgium. Survival had become the  goal. For more reads on Arctic exploration search Gordon’s Good Reads for The Endurance, Robert Peary, Jeannette.

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