He is a biographer's dream: Ernest Shackleton was ruthless and ambitious, an unabashed adventurer, an inspired leader, a glorious failure. Also, for much of his life, he was beset by financial and romantic entanglements. Huntford, author of Scott and Amundsen (basis of the recent PBS series The Last Place on Earth), has written a superb account of heroic adventure, of ineptitude and disappointment. Shackleton left a career in the merchant marine to join Robert Scott's expedition on the Discovery (1900); sent home for reasons of health after the first season, he determined to try for the South Pole on his own. The bitter rivalry with Scott had begun. Shackleton's charm and powers of persuasion enabled him to raise money for his 19071909 expedition that came within 100 miles of the Pole. Back home, he was a national hero with financial troubles (he always sought instant fortune). Again, he found backers and planned the "last great journey" across the Antarctic continent. This produced epic adventure: the loss of Endurance in the ice and the long, open-boat journey to safety and rescue. It is one of the greatest survival stories of all time, and Huntford gives it full treatment. Readers interested in polar exploration will find this book hard to put down.
Extremely well researched, can be tedious but its a great book to fall asleep with. So thorough that you will have no illusions about Shackleton as a hero, but you will see his humanity and his restlessness and admire his tenacity and loyalty to preserving his men's lives, which in itself gave his voyages meaning. Also was pleasantly surprised by Shackleton's poetic nature and now view him as the quintessential Anglo-Irishman from a by-gone era.
The author has an approachable writing style, although this is a scholarly book. His footnotes and long bibliography demonstrate the depth of his research, although he was familiar with the era from his earlier interest in Scott. Huntford captures why Shackleton was so popular among his contemporaries, despite his failure to reach the Pole, etc. and his lack of adequate funds. It is appropriate he is buried among the whalers that sailed those seas.