Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night

Julian Sancton. Crown, . $30 ISBN 978-1-984824-33-2
Journalist Sancton debuts with a riveting account of the first polar expedition to spend the winter south of the Antarctic Circle. Setting out from Antwerp in August 1897 with plans to reach the magnetic south pole, the Belgian steam whaler Belgica ran aground and nearly sank in the Beagle Channel, lost a sailor overboard, and narrowly avoided a mutiny—all before reaching Antarctica. During the Antarctic summer, the expedition’s scientists collected more than 100 previously unknown specimens and discovered unmapped features of the Antarctic coast line. Running far behind schedule, the ship’s commandant, Adrien de Gerlache, decided to push farther south as winter approached, entrapping the Belgica in ice with the intention of resuming the journey once temperatures warmed. Vividly recreating the crew’s boredom, disorientation, fatigue, depression, and hysteria during their 13-month ordeal, Sancton focuses on the expedition’s American doctor, Frederick Cook, whose prescription of daily seal or penguin meat helped the crew stave off scurvy, and Norwegian first mate Roald Amundsen, who became a legendary polar explorer thanks, in part, to the lessons he learned on the Belgica. Though the prose occasionally tips over into the melodramatic, this is a well-researched and enthralling portrait of endurance and escape. Agent: Todd Shuster, Aevitas Creative Management. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/24/2021
Release date: 05/04/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 614 pages - 978-0-593-40140-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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