'An epic of survival' -- MICHAEL PALIN
'A "grade-A classic"' -- SUNDAY TIMES
'Utterly enthralling' -- GEOFF DYER, GUARDIAN
'Deeply engrossing' -- NEW YORK TIMES
***A TIMES BEST BOOK OF 2021***
The harrowing, survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly wrong, with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter
August 1897: The Belgica set sail, eager to become the first scientific expedition to reach the white wilderness of the South Pole. But the ship soon became stuck fast in the ice of the Bellinghausen sea, condemning the ship's crew to overwintering in Antarctica and months of endless polar night. In the darkness, plagued by a mysterious illness, their minds ravaged by the sound of dozens of rats teeming in the hold, they descended into madness.
In this epic tale, Julian Sancton unfolds a story of adventure gone horribly awry. As the crew teetered on the brink, the Captain increasingly relied on two young officers whose friendship had blossomed in captivity - Dr. Frederick Cook, the wild American whose later infamy would overshadow his brilliance on the Belgica; and the ship's first mate, soon-to-be legendary Roald Amundsen, who later raced Captain Scott to the South Pole. Together, Cook and Amundsen would plan a last-ditch, desperate escape from the ice-one that would either etch their names into history or doom them to a terrible fate in the frozen ocean.
Drawing on first-hand crew diaries and journals, and exclusive access to the ship's logbook, the result is equal parts maritime thriller and gothic horror. This is an unforgettable journey into the deep.
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.