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.