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The harrowing true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter--in the tradition of David Grann, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Hampton Sides “Deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick “A riveting tale, splendidly The harrowing true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter--in the tradition of David Grann, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Hampton Sides “Deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick “A riveting tale, splendidly told . . . Madhouse at the End of the Earth has it all.”—Stacy Schiff “Julian Sancton has deftly rescued this forgotten saga from the deep freeze.”—Hampton Sides In August 1897, thirty-one-year-old commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail aboard the Belgica, fueled by a profound sense of adventure and dreams of claiming glory for his native Belgium. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. But the commandant's plans for a three-year expedition to reach the magnetic South Pole would be thwarted at each turn. Before the ship cleared South America, it had already broken down, run aground, and lost several key crew members, leaving behind a group with dubious experience for such an ambitious voyage. As the ship progressed into the freezing waters, the captain had to make a choice: turn back and spare his men the potentially devastating consequences of getting stuck, or recklessly sail deeper into the ice pack to chase glory and fame. He sailed on, and the Belgica soon found itself stuck fast in the icy hold of the Antarctic continent. The ship would winter on the ice. Plagued by a mysterious, debilitating illness and besieged by the monotony of their days, the crew deteriorated as their confinement in suffocating close quarters wore on and their hope of escape dwindled daily. As winter approached the days grew shorter, until the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, condemning the ship's occupants to months of quarantine in an endless night. Forged in fire and carved by ice, Antarctica proved a formidable opponent for the motley crew. Among them was Frederick Cook, an American doctor--part scientist, part adventurer, part P.T. Barnum--whose unorthodox methods delivered many of the crew from the gruesome symptoms of scurvy and whose relentless optimism buoyed their spirits through the long, dark polar night. Then there was Roald Amundsen, a young Norwegian who went on to become a storied polar explorer in his own right, exceeding de Gerlache's wildest dreams by leading the first expeditions to traverse the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole. Drawing on firsthand accounts of the Belgica's voyage and exclusive access to the ship's logbook, Sancton tells the tale of its long, isolated imprisonment on the ice--a story that NASA studies today in its research on isolation for missions to Mars. In vivid, hair-raising prose, Sancton recounts the myriad forces that drove these men right up to and over the brink of madness.


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The harrowing true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter--in the tradition of David Grann, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Hampton Sides “Deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick “A riveting tale, splendidly The harrowing true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter--in the tradition of David Grann, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Hampton Sides “Deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick “A riveting tale, splendidly told . . . Madhouse at the End of the Earth has it all.”—Stacy Schiff “Julian Sancton has deftly rescued this forgotten saga from the deep freeze.”—Hampton Sides In August 1897, thirty-one-year-old commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail aboard the Belgica, fueled by a profound sense of adventure and dreams of claiming glory for his native Belgium. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. But the commandant's plans for a three-year expedition to reach the magnetic South Pole would be thwarted at each turn. Before the ship cleared South America, it had already broken down, run aground, and lost several key crew members, leaving behind a group with dubious experience for such an ambitious voyage. As the ship progressed into the freezing waters, the captain had to make a choice: turn back and spare his men the potentially devastating consequences of getting stuck, or recklessly sail deeper into the ice pack to chase glory and fame. He sailed on, and the Belgica soon found itself stuck fast in the icy hold of the Antarctic continent. The ship would winter on the ice. Plagued by a mysterious, debilitating illness and besieged by the monotony of their days, the crew deteriorated as their confinement in suffocating close quarters wore on and their hope of escape dwindled daily. As winter approached the days grew shorter, until the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, condemning the ship's occupants to months of quarantine in an endless night. Forged in fire and carved by ice, Antarctica proved a formidable opponent for the motley crew. Among them was Frederick Cook, an American doctor--part scientist, part adventurer, part P.T. Barnum--whose unorthodox methods delivered many of the crew from the gruesome symptoms of scurvy and whose relentless optimism buoyed their spirits through the long, dark polar night. Then there was Roald Amundsen, a young Norwegian who went on to become a storied polar explorer in his own right, exceeding de Gerlache's wildest dreams by leading the first expeditions to traverse the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole. Drawing on firsthand accounts of the Belgica's voyage and exclusive access to the ship's logbook, Sancton tells the tale of its long, isolated imprisonment on the ice--a story that NASA studies today in its research on isolation for missions to Mars. In vivid, hair-raising prose, Sancton recounts the myriad forces that drove these men right up to and over the brink of madness.

30 review for Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    It took a chapter or two to get into it but then I was hooked. Fascinating story.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I love reading about the Arctic, so I decided to venture southward and learn more about its polar (ha) opposite. Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a detailed, gripping account of the Belgica expedition in the late 1890s. Julian Sancton has deftly recreated the unforgiving Antarctic landscapes the crew encountered, using excerpts from the sailors’ diaries to bring the ship’s fraught tensions to life. It took the story awhile to get to the southernmost continent, and I wasn’t as captivated by th I love reading about the Arctic, so I decided to venture southward and learn more about its polar (ha) opposite. Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a detailed, gripping account of the Belgica expedition in the late 1890s. Julian Sancton has deftly recreated the unforgiving Antarctic landscapes the crew encountered, using excerpts from the sailors’ diaries to bring the ship’s fraught tensions to life. It took the story awhile to get to the southernmost continent, and I wasn’t as captivated by the backstory as I was by the time spent in Antarctica (though it was helpful groundwork for certain decisions and dynamics). I was especially intrigued by the ship surgeon (Frederick Cook, who later became an infamous huckster after oil schemes and widespread doubt over his purported discovery of the North Pole). Cook’s innovative tactics and keen observations saved the Belgica and her passengers more than once. 4/5: An entertaining (and stressful) story of polar exploration gone awry. Perfect for fans of other survival stories and anything Arctic/Antarctic. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Madhouse at the End of the Earth revolves around an early polar expedition that went devastatingly awry trapping the ship’s crew on board and frozen solid for the entirety of the dark, frigid Antarctic winter. In August 1897, thirty-one-year-old commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail aboard the Belgica, fueled by a profound sense of adventure and dreams of claiming glory for his native Belgium. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. But the commandan Madhouse at the End of the Earth revolves around an early polar expedition that went devastatingly awry trapping the ship’s crew on board and frozen solid for the entirety of the dark, frigid Antarctic winter. In August 1897, thirty-one-year-old commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail aboard the Belgica, fueled by a profound sense of adventure and dreams of claiming glory for his native Belgium. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. But the commandant's plans for a three-year expedition to reach the magnetic South Pole would be thwarted at each turn. Before the ship cleared South America, it had already broken down, run aground, and lost several key crew members, leaving behind a group with dubious experience for such an ambitious voyage. As the ship progressed into the freezing waters, the captain had to make a choice: turn back and spare his men the potentially devastating consequences of getting stuck, or recklessly sail deeper into the ice pack to chase glory and fame. He sailed on, and the Belgica soon found itself stuck fast in the icy hold of the Antarctic continent. The ship would winter on the ice. Plagued by a mysterious, debilitating illness and besieged by the monotony of their days, the crew deteriorated as their confinement in suffocating close quarters wore on and their hope of escape dwindled daily. As winter approached the days grew shorter, until the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, condemning the ship's occupants to months of quarantine in an endless night. Forged in fire and carved by ice, Antarctica proved a formidable opponent for the motley crew. Among them was Frederick Cook, an American doctor--part scientist, part adventurer, part P.T. Barnum--whose unorthodox methods delivered many of the crew from the gruesome symptoms of scurvy and whose relentless optimism buoyed their spirits through the long, dark polar night. Then there was Roald Amundsen, a young Norwegian who went on to become a storied polar explorer in his own right, exceeding de Gerlache's wildest dreams by leading the first expeditions to traverse the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole. This is an enthralling, fascinating and chilling read and drawing on firsthand accounts of the Belgica's voyage and exclusive access to the ship's logbook, Sancton tells the tale of its long, isolated imprisonment on the ice--a story that NASA studies today in its research on isolation for missions to Mars. In vivid, hair-raising prose, the author recounts the myriad forces that drove these men right up to and over the brink of madness. Some of the most crisp, icy descriptions are woven into the gripping narrative so much so that you can almost feel the chill emanating from its pages. An extensively researched, intricately detailed, captivating work of narrative nonfiction. Highly recommended especially to those with a prior interest in the expedition field.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kate Southey

    This book was incredible! Julian Sancton manages to include meticulous research and authentic scientific and maritime details while making the book read like a ‘ripping yarn’. I am so glad that this story has finally been told in English as it wasn’t an expedition I was familiar with. Having read fairly widely about John Franklin and Erabus and Shackleton it was breathtaking to read of a ship that survived a polar winter. Despite knowing the outcome of the expedition I was still on the edge of m This book was incredible! Julian Sancton manages to include meticulous research and authentic scientific and maritime details while making the book read like a ‘ripping yarn’. I am so glad that this story has finally been told in English as it wasn’t an expedition I was familiar with. Having read fairly widely about John Franklin and Erabus and Shackleton it was breathtaking to read of a ship that survived a polar winter. Despite knowing the outcome of the expedition I was still on the edge of my seat, reading feverishly to find out if they would manage to free Belgica from the ice. De Gerlache was a tricky ‘hero’ for me, clearly an incredible seaman but so driven by pride that almost every decision he made was the wrong one. Amundsen and Cook were my heroes but it was sad to see that neither lived up to their early promise. That said, both were leagues ahead of De Gerlache and the rest of the crew in terms of their ability to innovate and adapt to the conditions they encountered. I will forever wonder what would have happened had they gone ahead with their plan to find the pole before returning to Belgium in 1900. It was fascinating to read Cook’s hypotheses about the affects of lack of sunlight on the crew and how he single handedly saved the crew from scurvy by using knowledge gained from Inuits in the Northern Polar regions. A must read book for anyone interested in polar exploration and geographic discovery.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    368 pages 5 stars This book has lengthy and interesting discussions about three of the key characters: Adrien de Gerlache, Roald Admundsen and Dr. Frederick Cook. Mr. Sancton talks about their childhoods and careers away from the Antarctic journey. De Gerlache was a sheer novice, while both Cook and Admundsen had polar experience. De Gerlache was a terrible disciplinarian. His rowdy crew did what ever the heck they wanted and their behavior went unpunished. His expedition was underfunded, he avoid 368 pages 5 stars This book has lengthy and interesting discussions about three of the key characters: Adrien de Gerlache, Roald Admundsen and Dr. Frederick Cook. Mr. Sancton talks about their childhoods and careers away from the Antarctic journey. De Gerlache was a sheer novice, while both Cook and Admundsen had polar experience. De Gerlache was a terrible disciplinarian. His rowdy crew did what ever the heck they wanted and their behavior went unpunished. His expedition was underfunded, he avoided confrontation at all costs and this caused major problems among the crew. It was a disaster in the making. Perhaps de Gerlache's biggest fault was that he was more worried about what his family and the “people back at home” in Belgium would think of him and his journey than the welfare of his men. The book details the men's deteriorating behavior. The stories are taken from the journals and diaries compiled by the men. It talks for Admundsen's love of adventure, the search for a competent cook (this was almost amusing), de Gerlache's anxieties and Cook's sense of wonder and love of learning. The book also speaks of the tragedies and other stories about the men. Descriptions abound about the flora, fauna and the vastness and colors of the sky and the ice. There is even a discussion on the difference between freshwater and seawater ice. The feelings of the men when they got trapped in the ice and had to winter over was heartbreaking. Tempers flared and as the men got more ill, the situation became dangerous. The men joined together to make a last ditch heroic effort to escape from the ice. Cook, de Gerlache and Admundsen all agreed that they would not survive another winter in the ice. This is a very well written account of the expedition and is very detailed. The hardships the men suffered were laid out in detail. I can't think of any aspect of the journey that wasn't discussed and told very well. This is an exceptional book. I will certainly look into other books written by Mr. Sancton. I want to thank NetGalley and Crown Publishing/Crown for forwarding to me a copy of this very interesting and intense book for me to read, enjoy and review. The opinions stated here are my own.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Buddy Scalera

    The title of the book caught my attention. The wonderful writing and incredible research kept me to the end. The prose is tight, colorful, and dramatic. I'd never heard about this Beligica or the journey to the Antartic. It is not even the type of non-fiction I would typically read. It was getting good reviews, so I checked it out. The writer effectively juggles a large cast of colorful and quirky real-life characters, as he documents the incredible journey of these brave explorers. The sheer amo The title of the book caught my attention. The wonderful writing and incredible research kept me to the end. The prose is tight, colorful, and dramatic. I'd never heard about this Beligica or the journey to the Antartic. It is not even the type of non-fiction I would typically read. It was getting good reviews, so I checked it out. The writer effectively juggles a large cast of colorful and quirky real-life characters, as he documents the incredible journey of these brave explorers. The sheer amount of research that went into this book is truly impressive. Five stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brett

    This book is an amazing accomplishment. I am generally not a fan of adventure non-fiction, and I feel trapped as soon as I step aboard a boat. But the book is so well written, the story so compellingly told, and the characters made so real and multi-dimensional, that I completely fell in, and read it, breathlessly, in a weekend. Sancton not only does an excellent job explaining the technical, interpersonal, and psychological issues facing the crew of the Belgica, he makes the reader feel the int This book is an amazing accomplishment. I am generally not a fan of adventure non-fiction, and I feel trapped as soon as I step aboard a boat. But the book is so well written, the story so compellingly told, and the characters made so real and multi-dimensional, that I completely fell in, and read it, breathlessly, in a weekend. Sancton not only does an excellent job explaining the technical, interpersonal, and psychological issues facing the crew of the Belgica, he makes the reader feel the intense sense of peril. I've never written a Goodreads review before, but I felt compelled to let people know about this book. Well done, Mr. Sancton! I can't wait to read your next book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    much more soon. for now: I liked this one. The Belgica expedition seemed destined for failure even before the ship arrived in Antarctica, but somehow made it there and back. on the personal side: I feel so stupid. I bought this book because I couldn't remember reading anything about The Belgica expedition, then realized after the author brought it up that I've had Frederick Cook's Through the First Antarctic Night sitting on my shelves forever (still unread). I really need to stop buying new boo much more soon. for now: I liked this one. The Belgica expedition seemed destined for failure even before the ship arrived in Antarctica, but somehow made it there and back. on the personal side: I feel so stupid. I bought this book because I couldn't remember reading anything about The Belgica expedition, then realized after the author brought it up that I've had Frederick Cook's Through the First Antarctic Night sitting on my shelves forever (still unread). I really need to stop buying new books and start reading the old ones.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Lynch

    I really enjoyed Julian Sanction's Madhouse at the End of the Earth! This is a non-fiction book about the adventures of commandant Adrien de Gerlache, his ship the Belgica, and their expedition to chart the borders of Antarctica in 1897. This book was incredibly readable, compelling, and intense. I was enthralled by this story, which details everything from de Gerlache's campaign to raise funds and hire quality adventurers for the expedition, all the way to what happened to everyone who survived u I really enjoyed Julian Sanction's Madhouse at the End of the Earth! This is a non-fiction book about the adventures of commandant Adrien de Gerlache, his ship the Belgica, and their expedition to chart the borders of Antarctica in 1897. This book was incredibly readable, compelling, and intense. I was enthralled by this story, which details everything from de Gerlache's campaign to raise funds and hire quality adventurers for the expedition, all the way to what happened to everyone who survived upon returning home. And let me tell you... fate and Mother Nature put these guys through the ringer! The atmosphere in this book is SO chilling! It was refreshing reading this in the summer during a couple weeks of wet, hot, humid weather, because I felt like I was in the Antarctic with these men. The author really made me feel like he had been on the Belgica with how wonderfully detailed and described this narrative is. Sancton also does an excellent job with characterization and I really felt like I got to know de Gerlache and his team. I really liked the American doctor, Cook, who seemed to be a more progressive thinker than his compatriots. Cook not only saved everyone's life many times, but he advocated for learning from the natives and adopting their clothing and lifestyle to better survive the harsh environments. And holy crap was the environment harsh! What these men went through to get themselves home was truly astounding. And, although the expedition wasn't as successful as they hoped it would be, this was still a thrilling tale. The only thing that put me off about this book was the overall attitude of bigotry and racism that the explorers had. It seems like people back then were OBSESSED with nationality and seeking honor for their country. Because de Garlache wasn't able to hire a team of all Belgian explorers and sailors like he wanted, there was a lot of contention among the men due to language barriers and bigotry. It was all very silly and annoying. I can't fault the author for it because it is part of the story, but I can't help feeling disappointed in how petty these men were at times. I rated Julian Sanction's Madhouse at the End of the Earth 5 out of 5 stars. What a cool story! And may the spirit of the Order of the Penguin live on! You might like this if you like: adventure, chilling tales, and history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    AltLovesBooks

    "We are no longer navigators, but a small colony of prisoners serving their sentence." This is my second voyage (ha!) with a polar expedition book, the first being In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette. Rather than going for the North Pole like the Jeannette several years previous, the Belgica and her crew gave it the honest college try in being the first to reach the magnetic South Pole. As you can imagine, in such an extreme environment and it being 189 "We are no longer navigators, but a small colony of prisoners serving their sentence." This is my second voyage (ha!) with a polar expedition book, the first being In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette. Rather than going for the North Pole like the Jeannette several years previous, the Belgica and her crew gave it the honest college try in being the first to reach the magnetic South Pole. As you can imagine, in such an extreme environment and it being 1897 without modern advances and conveniences, things go south (haha!) quickly. I thought this book had a bit of a slow start, but it quickly drew me in once the Belgica got underway and the actual expedition began. Some backstory of the ship and its crew is necessary to really establish a connection between the reader and the characters, so I didn't particularly mind. I thought the writing style was engaging, if a little bit sensational -- I get that it reads like an adventure book, but it's ultimately supposed to be a historical account, and it feels like the author played it a bit fast and loose with the day-to-day dialogue and accounts of what happened. The transition of the crew as their voyage became much longer than anticipated was especially interesting, and I liked the inclusion of the epilogue of sorts at the end that showed what happened to everyone at the conclusion. In summary, a very engaging adventure book about the impact of hubris and stubborness on polar exploration. A bit of a slow start rewards the reader with much drama later on. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    Visit and explore the settings in the novel Get onboard for an adventure in the Antarctica I’m always happy to read something about a real life event. Fact mixed with fiction – yes please! Even before we got to the Antarctic, I was deeply involved in the story. The ship, and novel, take their time getting to their destination but then this is the story of the journey as much as anything else. The Belgica the ship that went on one of the first arctic expeditions – one that turned into a true “madho Visit and explore the settings in the novel Get onboard for an adventure in the Antarctica I’m always happy to read something about a real life event. Fact mixed with fiction – yes please! Even before we got to the Antarctic, I was deeply involved in the story. The ship, and novel, take their time getting to their destination but then this is the story of the journey as much as anything else. The Belgica the ship that went on one of the first arctic expeditions – one that turned into a true “madhouse with the men onboard turning against themselves. Tensions so fraught that you are never sure where this will end despite knowing that history has already given us the answers. Now that is a gripping read! The story is one of high emotions throughout. The groaning ice takes no prisoners and we are soon in waters where there is no escape from the elements. The men suffer from isolation, whilst the darkness outside slowly smothers them. In addition, they have to endure snow blindness and storms. What happens to a man when they endure such an ordeal and how do they then face the outside world again? The characters are of course all real life adventurers: Frederick Cook, an American doctor–part scientist, part adventurer, part P.T. Barnum. Adrien de Gerlache was a Belgian seaman who had less experience than the other two, but tons more pride and stubbornness. Perhaps the most famous is Roald Amundsen, a young Norwegian and famous explorer. What these men went through, how the landscape almost drove them mad is a fascinating account of how isolation and fear, cold and hunger, despair and darkness can send a man into madness. A fascinating read since you realise you are taking part in history in many ways. A very well researched and authentic novel that you should read anywhere apart from on a ship, or near ice. It’s just too real for that.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ophelia Alderton

    I do like adventure stories but I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. The author provides the most page-turning and thrilling account of one of the first polar expeditions to Antarctica that went terribly wrong. Piecing together the diaries and logs of the crew, this book is one of the most readable non fiction historical books I have ever come across. Clearly thoroughly researched but also coupled with superb storytelling.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An ill-fated turn-of-the-century Antarctic expedition that is not quite as harrowing a survival story as the Ernest Shackleton expedition, but still quite gripping.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lins

    I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but when I heard about “Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey Into the Dark Antarctic Night” by Julian Sancton, it reminded me of some thrilling non-fiction I’ve loved in the past (e.g., “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger, and “Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson). What a thriller! It is indeed a “Polar Horror Story” and as gripping as any adventure story – fact or fiction! I intentionally didn’t read up on the I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but when I heard about “Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey Into the Dark Antarctic Night” by Julian Sancton, it reminded me of some thrilling non-fiction I’ve loved in the past (e.g., “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger, and “Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson). What a thriller! It is indeed a “Polar Horror Story” and as gripping as any adventure story – fact or fiction! I intentionally didn’t read up on the Belgica so that I could fully experience the suspense of this amazing expedition. I’m sure I was drawn to the story because of the three-plus decades that I have been part of the International Space Station Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. So much reminded me of the challenges of our own international engineering and scientific cooperation on the ISS! Clearly NASA has learned many lessons about survival (physical and mental) from expeditions like the Belgica, and as Sancton points out, are still learning and applying to future Mars expeditions. “Madhouse at the End of the Earth” would make a fantastic film! I want to see the Gerlache Strait in color!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anne Meyer

    So good! I felt in the ship with these men as they battled through just unbelievable conditions because of the vivid immediacy the author creates in the text. The descriptions in this book left me absolutely breathless at times waiting to see what fresh horror was around the next ice floe for these men. This book also speaks to the absolute endurance and resiliency of the human spirit, and what people will do to learn, to explore, to hope, and to live. The first thing I looked at when I was done So good! I felt in the ship with these men as they battled through just unbelievable conditions because of the vivid immediacy the author creates in the text. The descriptions in this book left me absolutely breathless at times waiting to see what fresh horror was around the next ice floe for these men. This book also speaks to the absolute endurance and resiliency of the human spirit, and what people will do to learn, to explore, to hope, and to live. The first thing I looked at when I was done reading this book was how soon and how much it would be to book a cruise to Antarctica so I could see first-hand what the men on the Belgica saw. (The answer -- too much for this reader, but maybe someday!)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Guy Guarino

    It makes me ask the question, "Would I have survived? No." Great read. In-depth study of the men who lead this expedition, and how and why they lived through it. It makes me ask the question, "Would I have survived? No." Great read. In-depth study of the men who lead this expedition, and how and why they lived through it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    I've read several books about expeditions to the Arctic (Labyrinth of Ice), as explorers search for the Northwest Passage and brave polar bears to reach the North Pole. But this is the first book I've read on exploring Antarctica. By the late 1890s Antartica was one of the last places on earth to be explored, a blank space on a map to fill in. Adrien de Gerlache of Belgium wanted to fulfill a boyhood dream of being a polar explorer and saw Antarctica as a way to claim glory for himself and Belgi I've read several books about expeditions to the Arctic (Labyrinth of Ice), as explorers search for the Northwest Passage and brave polar bears to reach the North Pole. But this is the first book I've read on exploring Antarctica. By the late 1890s Antartica was one of the last places on earth to be explored, a blank space on a map to fill in. Adrien de Gerlache of Belgium wanted to fulfill a boyhood dream of being a polar explorer and saw Antarctica as a way to claim glory for himself and Belgium. What followed was perhaps one of the first international exploration efforts, as the crew of the Belgica sailed to Antarctica to claim new records for Belgium's glory and scientific research. As the book's title suggests (and anyone who has read anything on polar exploration already knows) this voyage cannot possibly go smoothly. The Belgica becomes trapped in the ice and the crew is forced to winter in Antarctica. Between inactivity, months of darkness, and scurvy, the men suffer to various degrees both physically and mentally. Julian Sancton's tale of the Belgica and her crew is well-written, well researched, and utterly captivating. From the beginning when the reader is questioning the sanity of men who want to explore Antarctica and suffer the inevitably harsh conditions, to the shock and awe of the crew on seeing icebergs for the first time; from the rank stench of penguin colonies that virtually leaps off the page in his descriptions to the horrors of the darkest and longest nights the crew are trapped on board the Belgica, Sancton brings the entire expedition to life for the reader. Equally as interesting to me (as an archivist) was Sancton's Author's Note at the end of the book, describing his journey to the archives in Belgium to read the diaries of the crew themselves and his trip to Antarctica to discover the polar land for himself. His comments on the damage current tourism and climate change is causing to the area, and its inevitable conclusions, comes as both a dark warning and a well timed reminder that there is still much we don't know about the world and how we as humans react in certain situations (expeditions like the Belgica's are apparently being studied by NASA for how space explorers might react) but that there are other situations we can understand, and can hopefully still work together to solve. An excellent book on an amazing expedition. A must read for polar armchair explorers. In addition to the fascinating story, the photographs taken by Belgica doctor Frederick Cook are absolutely gorgeous. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Wiltshire

    This is undoubtedly one of the best explorer books I've ever read. I'd go as far as to say up there in the very best books I've read too, fiction or non-fiction. The author does the most remarkable job of writing what appears to be fiction from the actual narratives/diaries/letters of the men on the Belgica. I was totally engrossed in this book, to the extent that I was more in the Antarctic onboard the ship than I was grounded in my own life at times. Whatever madness got into these sailors, ge This is undoubtedly one of the best explorer books I've ever read. I'd go as far as to say up there in the very best books I've read too, fiction or non-fiction. The author does the most remarkable job of writing what appears to be fiction from the actual narratives/diaries/letters of the men on the Belgica. I was totally engrossed in this book, to the extent that I was more in the Antarctic onboard the ship than I was grounded in my own life at times. Whatever madness got into these sailors, gets into the reader too. I had not heard of this late 1800s Belguim expedition before I can across a review of this book. That now seems incredible given its achievements and who was onboard. One of my favourite moments was when the expedition leader was attempting to gather crew, realising he would have to look outside Belgium for the skillset necessary, and received a letter from a very young Norwegian outlining his suitability and begging for an unpaid berth on the ship. It was signed Roald Amundsen. Now, every British schoolchild of a certain era knows that name, and not in a good way. We boo Amundsen and we cheer Scott, of course. We were taught history (I'm writing here of the days when children were actually taught anything at all, of course) from the British point of view, and Amundsen is just this slightly Machiavellian figure who stole the Pole from Scott. And possibly killed him (that was never explicitly stated in my old school, but it was understood by all of us from the teacher's silent glower when telling the story). Amundsen, however, is the standout star of this novel. He's an enigma wrapped in a mystery, a man who from the earliest age prepared himself to suffer in the ice. Along with Amundsen, we get to know Dr Frederick Cook, a man I had never heard of but should have done. This remarkable man had already been to the Arctic and lived with the Eskimos, learning their way of living on the ice; skills and knowledge he brought to the Antarctic. He was the doctor on the ship, responsible for all the crew, and as the title of the novel implies, that went disastrously wrong. Apparently, when the author had finished writing this book (five years of research and writing were not wasted) he went to the Antarctic too, to see the places the Belgica went. This would be my dream trip. I'm living in one of the closest habitable place to Antarctica, so maybe one day... Anyway, do not miss this remarkable story. I cannot recommend it too highly.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Darryl Tomo

    My comfort zone for reading is essentially 'books about people enduring great suffering in extreme cold'. I think I've read most of the great works on Everest, the North-West Passage, the Arctic, Antarctica, including most of the standard works like Shackleton's 'South'. If you like that kind of thing, you will enjoy this. I'd never heard of the Belgica before - this book is one of the few on this subject published in English - but it's an epic story of endurance, exhaustively researched and recr My comfort zone for reading is essentially 'books about people enduring great suffering in extreme cold'. I think I've read most of the great works on Everest, the North-West Passage, the Arctic, Antarctica, including most of the standard works like Shackleton's 'South'. If you like that kind of thing, you will enjoy this. I'd never heard of the Belgica before - this book is one of the few on this subject published in English - but it's an epic story of endurance, exhaustively researched and recreated by Julian Sancton using the surviving sources. It's an engaging, funny, and occasionally moving tale of some larger than life characters trying not to die in the coldest place on Earth. Enjoy it, preferably while gently roasting in front of an open fire with a glass of warming whisky in your hand, raising it in occasional salute to some long dead, stiff upper lipped, but altogether brave dudes. Proost!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was a gripping account of the Antarctic expected led in the late 19th century by Adrien de Gerlache. As with many of the polar expeditions of this time period, the Belgica’s adventure was filled with poor decision making, arrogant men, sickness, death, starvation, and, of course, being trapped in ice for months. This tale was well written and researched, but I personally didn’t care for the audiobook narrator.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cook Memorial Public Library

    Read Jean's review of her Pick of the Week at the Cook Memorial Public Library blog, Shelf Life: https://shelflife.cooklib.org/2021/07... Check our catalog: https://encore.cooklib.org/iii/encore... Read Jean's review of her Pick of the Week at the Cook Memorial Public Library blog, Shelf Life: https://shelflife.cooklib.org/2021/07... Check our catalog: https://encore.cooklib.org/iii/encore...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Dougherty

    4.5. This was a thrilling story of exploration and survival. While it took me a little while to get into it, by the last 100 pages, I could not put it down. The main voices of this voyage, with the author relying on accounts from their diaries, make an interesting crew and give insight about the voyage. The author transports us to this ship and makes me want to visit Antarctica in the future. It is also fascinating to see where life takes these explorers after the expedition. Very fascinating st 4.5. This was a thrilling story of exploration and survival. While it took me a little while to get into it, by the last 100 pages, I could not put it down. The main voices of this voyage, with the author relying on accounts from their diaries, make an interesting crew and give insight about the voyage. The author transports us to this ship and makes me want to visit Antarctica in the future. It is also fascinating to see where life takes these explorers after the expedition. Very fascinating story that I will not soon forget.

  23. 4 out of 5

    James Schneider

    Loved Madhouse at the End of the Earth! It made me want to drop everything, find a ship, and set off on an expedition of my own. The story was very compelling and detailed. Would recommend to any adventurer at heart.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Bruning

    This is my favorite type of book — a tragic expedition story that reads like one of the great adventure novels. Also, boats and maps win me over every time. Julian Sancton is a meticulous researcher and a top-notch storyteller. He has brought history to life in a vivid and unforgettable way.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kelly A.N

    This was such a fascinating book. Especially since it was based on true events!. So well written and narrated. Loved it!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jason Allison

    An incredible, terrible adventure told exceptionally well.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tal McThenia

    Such a psychologically rich and compelling Arctic adventure tale! It brings the strange and murky emotional side of the story and characters alive in a way that reads like fiction. But it's all grounded in an incredible amount of historical research. Beautifully written and tightly paced, start to finish! Such a psychologically rich and compelling Arctic adventure tale! It brings the strange and murky emotional side of the story and characters alive in a way that reads like fiction. But it's all grounded in an incredible amount of historical research. Beautifully written and tightly paced, start to finish!

  28. 5 out of 5

    William

    In the waning years of the 19th century, when sailors yet ventured across the oceans in wooden ships powered by both sails and steam-driven propellers, and when both arctic and antarctic regions were still unexplored and unmapped, a few hardy (or perhaps foolhardy) adventurers, driven by desires for fame and public acclaim, by fiscal profit, or simply by a longing for adventure, dared to penetrate some of Earth's most hostile and deadly environments. Sancton's Madhouse at the End of the Earth is In the waning years of the 19th century, when sailors yet ventured across the oceans in wooden ships powered by both sails and steam-driven propellers, and when both arctic and antarctic regions were still unexplored and unmapped, a few hardy (or perhaps foolhardy) adventurers, driven by desires for fame and public acclaim, by fiscal profit, or simply by a longing for adventure, dared to penetrate some of Earth's most hostile and deadly environments. Sancton's Madhouse at the End of the Earth is the tale of one such group of adventurers who sailed the former whaling ship Belgica to Antarctica where she became icebound and was entrapped through the arctic winter. This book, drawn largely from first-person logs and diaries of the men on board, is the non-fictional account of the Belgica's entrapment and of the fate of her crew, or at least of her officers since they were the primary keepers of written records. I plunged into the book with enthusiasm but before long became wary of the author's compositional skill inasmuch as many of his comparisons and metaphors invoked fictional characters and episodes. The works of Edgar Allen Poe and of Jules Verne appear to be Sancton's favorite points of reference at times. Now, I enjoy Poe and Verne probably as much as anyone, but their imaginative creations appear to me as inappropriate for use in a historical, non-fictional text. The greatest shock, however, was yet to come. On page 65, Sancton states that Earth's poles featured in 19th century literature as emotional magnets, drawing men irresistibly toward them and then driving them mad, being, I suppose, sort of geographical cognates of the Lorelei of Rhine River legend. Perhaps Sancton should have used the German legend for his metaphor rather than choosing Coleridge's poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner for there he came very near to losing me as a reader. Our author claims that the poem is “about a ship that becomes cursed after a sailor takes a potshot at an albatross and finds itself helplessly ensnared in the Antarctic ice.” At that point, any middle school student immediately realizes that Sancton has either never read the poem to which he alludes or else he has thoroughly misunderstood it, losing any pretense of being a serious or believable writer. In reality, the Mariner's ship is ensnared in the ice before the albatross ever appears, and it is the crew's humane treatment of the bird that entices the Fates to release them from the ice. Much later, after the ship has reentered warm waters, far removed from any ice, the Mariner kills the albatross with his crossbow (a far more serious offense than merely taking a “potshot” at it as Sancton naively states), and the Fates/God/Nature impose severe punishment upon the murderous Mariner by becalming his ship under a hot Sun, not by trapping it in the ice. An admittedly more minor nit I have to pick with Sancton's writing is that every now and then he chooses to throw in an unusual term when a more widely recognized synonym or phrase might be preferable for the general reader. I am certainly not opposed to an extensive vocabulary; in fact, I generally consider writing that expands my own vocabulary a bit to be advantageous. In these instances, though, use of some terminology strikes me as the author's crude attempt to impress the reader with his own erudition. The first such term I encountered was ineluctable followed by etiolation, then deflagrated, then embouchure. This is a very small criticism, if that. Perhaps it is more of a “heads up” notice to the reader to have a dictionary handy when such terms are encountered. A couple of other nits demand picking as well. On page 173, Sancton writes that de Gerlache “put their chances of surviving the Drake Passage at a hundred to one.” If one has 100 chances of surviving against one chance of perishing, that would be an excellent, almost guaranteed, survival rate. I'm pretty certain that he meant just the opposite, i.e., their chance of survival was only one in a hundred. Another linguistic faux pas appears on page 279 when a crew member is said to have fainted and “sprawled on the ground.” The problem comes when one remembers that this occurs on a yacht floating on the Scheldt River so Van Rysselberghe would have sprawled on the deck, certainly not on the ground! Let's take a short peek at one final nit. Of all the crew and officers trapped throughout the winter on the frozen Belgica, exactly one appears to have become truly mentally deranged. To refer to the ship as a “madhouse at the end of the Earth” is surely a wondrous example of hyperbole. As is frequently the case, assigning quality stars to a book as part of a review can be something of a compromise. For the history of the Belgica Expedition, for the insights into the personalities of the adventurers—some of whom became widely known explorers in their own right later on, for its unusual reliance on first-person sources such as personal diaries, and for its depiction of a variety of human natures when confronted with extreme adversity, I'd readily assign this book five stars. For all the nits I had to pick with the author's multiple faux pas, especially his mangled misinterpretation of Coleridge's poem, three stars would be a generous assessment. The compromise, obviously, yields four stars—which also takes into account that writing a book is far more challenging than is reviewing one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    Hand me a book about either polar region and it’s a guarantee I’ll move it to the top of my to-read list. I have no idea why I am so fascinated by these places; perhaps it’s the incredible struggle of human vs nature, the fact that the very environment seems hellbent on killing the weak humans that dare to invade its space. Whatever the reason, books on the Arctic and the Antarctic tend to get my heart racing, and this book was no different. I’ve long been a fan of the story of the Franklin Exped Hand me a book about either polar region and it’s a guarantee I’ll move it to the top of my to-read list. I have no idea why I am so fascinated by these places; perhaps it’s the incredible struggle of human vs nature, the fact that the very environment seems hellbent on killing the weak humans that dare to invade its space. Whatever the reason, books on the Arctic and the Antarctic tend to get my heart racing, and this book was no different. I’ve long been a fan of the story of the Franklin Expedition, but this was the first I’d heard of the Belgica. Like his childhood hero Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen itched to explore the polar regions, and was excited to join Adrien de Gerlache on his expedition to the southernmost continent in the last years of the 19th century. Beset by hardships (the ship becoming trapped in the ice and having to overwinter in the pack ice, the first humans to do so, while the crew battled fatigue, boredom, insanity, and scurvy), the officers, scientists, and crew attempted to break their ship free of the ice, an attempt that the fates of Antarctica laughed at. However, the ship was finally released from the ice through a mix of luck in the way the pack ice broke up around the ship, and because of the expertise of the captain Lecointe in placing explosives in such as a way as to release the stern of the ship from the grip of the ice that had built up around it in the prior 13 months. As with most exploration narratives, the first few chapters detailing who was paying for what regarding the expedition was a bit dry, but once the Belgica steamed away from Belgium, the pages flew beneath my fingers. It’s hard to believe that men would voluntarily put themselves in such danger just to achieve a place in the record books; it’s been so long since any place on earth has felt as wild as those blank areas of the maps in the 19th century. Once the ship became trapped in the ice at the start of Part II, the story picked up even more; Sancton is a gifted writer who is able to make his readers feel as though they too are part of the expedition. I especially appreciated that Sancton added so many of Cook’s photos; they really make the men of this expedition real to the reader. I was surprised to learn that this was both Cook’s and Amundsen’s first expedition, considering their far more famous exploits a few years later. I also appreciated that Sancton mentioned Cook’s journey to the North Pole and how Peary managed to smear Cook’s name while falsifying his own data. It’s fascinating to know that Cook’s ingenuity while trapped in the ice in Antarctica with the Belgica may inspire problem-solving for Mars expeditions in the future. This is probably one of the most interesting and fast-paced polar expedition books I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Hudson

    This was such a fascinating “truth can be stranger than fiction” read! This is the true story of the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache, who in 1897 set sail aboard the “Belgica” on an expedition to Antarctica in an attempt to be the first to reach the magnetic South Pole. We first see de Gerlache’s attempts to put the expedition together back in Belgium and the hiring of the crew, including the much more experienced (in terms of polar exploration) Roald Admundsen and the American ship’s surgeon, Freder This was such a fascinating “truth can be stranger than fiction” read! This is the true story of the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache, who in 1897 set sail aboard the “Belgica” on an expedition to Antarctica in an attempt to be the first to reach the magnetic South Pole. We first see de Gerlache’s attempts to put the expedition together back in Belgium and the hiring of the crew, including the much more experienced (in terms of polar exploration) Roald Admundsen and the American ship’s surgeon, Frederick Cook. The journey gets off to a bad start, with de Gerlache unable to maintain discipline amongst his crew. However, things go from bad to worse once they enter the Antarctic circle, with the “Belgica” ultimately becoming trapped in ice for the Antarctic winter. As the title of the book suggests, this has profound consequences on the physical and mental health of the crew, and we are left with a thrilling account of just how the men reacted to their situation. Every description, from the danger of the ice flows to the stench of the penguins, is incredibly vivid, and the author is incredibly skilled in really bringing the trials of these incredible men to life. The back story is great if, like me, you have little knowledge of polar exploration in the late 19th century, and the research undertaken by the author is clearly meticulous. I also loved finding out “what happened next” to a lot of the characters involved. I would absolutely read more by this author. My thanks to the author, NetGalley, and the publisher for the arc to review.

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