Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew were stranded on the Antarctic ice for 20 months beginning in January 1915. Alexander's story (which is named for Shackleton's ship) is compiled largely from the journals of Shackleton's 27-man crew and contains jawdropping photos by the expedition's photographer. Spellbinding.
- by David Grann
Ann Kingman of Books On The Nightstand fame was my guest on episode 161 of the podcast. We discussed favorite gifts for the holiday or any other season and she gushed about this incredible story, calling it a "nonfiction novella." By the bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon, this is the story of Henry Worsley who was obsessed with Ernest Shackleton, the Polar explorer in the 19th century who tried to be the first person to reach the South Pole and later tried to cross Antarctica on foot. Shackleton never completed his journeys, but Worsley was obsessed, partly because he was related to one of Shackleton's men and so he grew up knowing about these adventures. In 2015, Worsley, at the age of 55, he decided that he wanted to cross Antarctica alone on foot. Worsley had a big sled, filled with three hundred pounds of supplies that he strapped around his waist, put on cross country skis, and set off across Antarctica to complete this journey. David Grann gives us an inside look of what Henry Worsley went through on this journey. Worsley kept an audio diary and would radio back his experiences so Grann uses this to great effect. Kingman says you really feel like you're right there. It is a fast read but that's a good thing, otherwise you'd be up for hours because this qualifies as unputdownable. It's a little bit Into Thin Air, a little bit National Geographic. This was her pick for almost anybody you have to bring a gift for, even if you don't know what they might like to read. Chances are there's something in here that anyone would love.
Avid nonfiction readers know Hampton Sides to be a fantastic storyteller, and here he doesn’t disappoint. Beginning with their preparation to sail from San Francisco to mysterious arctic waters, this book follows Captain George Washington De Long and his brave crew of thirty-two men as they embark on a doomed voyage aboard the USS Jeanette. How many survived after crashing into the ice, marching across Siberia, encountering polar bears, and losing important supplies? You’ll be tearing through the pages to find out as Hampton Sides reveals each thrilling—and tragic—twist in this true story.
This lesser known memoir in translation is one of MMD team member Chelsey's favorites. Now that it's back in print from Pushkin Press, she widely recommends it every winter. In 1933, Christiane Ritter, an Austrian painter, arrived on the arctic island of Spitsbergen to live with her hunter husband in a tiny little hut. In her vividly detailed diary entries, she used her artistic eye to paint a picture of the barren landscape, its wonders, and its dangers. Introspective yet expansive, this memoir is one of very few 20th century accounts of the arctic tundra by a woman.
Most arctic adventurers made names for themselves with one tragic trip, but 16th century Dutch explorer William Barents managed three expeditions before conditions caught up with him. He and his crew faced starvation—plus starving polar bears—after losing their ship in the treacherous ice. Ambitious, intelligent, and passionate, Barents is a courageous figure to root for as he faces navigational challenges and a mutinous crew. Andrea Pitzer not only researched Barents’ life—she learned to use the same navigation tools he relied on over 400 years ago and retraced his steps on her own Arctic expeditions. If you’re looking for an immersive read set in the Age of Exploration, this book is for you.
- by Buddy Levy
Survival is no guarantee in a place with subzero temperatures. Add in terrifying arctic wolves and months of pitch-black darkness, and you have one of the deadliest voyages ever recorded: the Greely Polar Expedition. This nonfiction thriller details the team’s trek through the arctic wilderness, where they established a 300-year-old record and returned to camp to rejoice…only to find no way to return home. The supply ship intended to take them back never came, leaving Lt. A.W. Greely with a tough decision. While his wife attempted to garner favor for a rescue mission, Greely and his crew packed up and set out in five small boats to face starvation, insanity, and the open seas. Read Levy’s intricately researched account to find out how these courageous men fared.
Readers, take note: this stunning selection from prolific essayist Barry Lopez won the National Book Award in 1986. No matter your niche interest, this book has something for you to learn about in anthropology, biology, zoology, history, travel, and the beauty of the natural world. Lopez manages to pack the pages with facts in a way that makes even the countless varieties of ice captivating. He combines the poetic and scientific, taking a seemingly barren, mysterious landscape and making it tangible to the reader. Expressive, fascinating, and bold—this award winner will please Arctic experts and novices alike.
If you have a kid in your life who devoured Jack London and Gary Paulsen’s survival stories (or if you were that kid once upon a time), this middle grade book is for you. The narrative alternates between a 1910 race to make history in the South Pole and a strikingly similar 2018 trek across Antarctica. The comparison between Captain Robert Scott’s historical endeavor and Captain Louis Rudd’s more recent feat creates an immediate and intense reading experience, and photos bring the Arctic to life. Descriptions of dangerous, even deadly conditions are presented in a straightforward tone, sparing no factual detail, so be mindful of content for sensitive young readers.