Why We Still Care About Ernest Shackleton and ‘Endurance’

Three experts on history’s greatest survival story discuss why the discovery of the Antarctic shipwreck only adds to the mystique of the famed explorer

The recent discovery of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance has thrust his epic tale of Antarctic survival into the limelight once again.

The story still resonates with readers more than a century later: the sinking of Endurance amid the pack ice; the bone-rattling conditions on Elephant Island; the improbable 800-mile journey across windblown seas in the 22-foot James Caird; the mountainous trek across South Georgia Island to finally raise a rescue party.

Shackleton and his men have been the subject of much media fervor throughout the last century, and this latest flurry of Shackleton media comes more than two decades after the tale experienced a worldwide revival. In 1998, British author Caroline Alexander published The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Alexander’s book, which drew on new source material, birthed two separate Shackleton documentary films, and more media projects followed in its wake. Actor Kenneth Branagh played Shackleton in a 2002 film for British television; American documentary series Nova sent a film crew to Antarctica and hired mountaineers Reinhold Messner, Conrad Anker, and Stephen Venables to trek across South Georgia Island.

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