Ernest Shackleton didn’t just go Antarctica cold, as it were-he was very much a student of the many things that can go wrong on an expedition. Take, for example, the story of Adolphus Greely, an American explorer who captained the Proteus to the Arctic near Ellesmere Island in 1881. Supply parties failed to reach him and his crew in 1882 and 1883, so they abandoned the fort they’d established on Ellesmere and headed south to supply caches-which weren’t there. By the time he was rescued in 1884, only six of his 25 men were still alive, the others succumbing to starvation, drowning, hypothermia, and execution for dereliction of duties. Accusations of cannibalism by the starving men followed the survivors.

Shackleton wasn’t just familiar with Greely’s nightmare-he carried an account of it, The Rescue of Greely by Commander Winfield Scott Schley, on board the Endurance when he sailed south and into the pages of history as one of the most incredible survival tales of all time. In 1915, after being pushed by the winds of six-day storm, the Endurance was trapped in sea ice. For 10 months, he and his men lived on the boat they mockingly called the Ritz-and no doubt read liberally from Shackleton’s library.

The library, seen above in a photo by expedition photographer Frank Hurley, has been decoded for the first time-the Royal Geographic Society, working with Dutch digitizer Picturae, rescanned and analyzed the photo and was able to read the titles of the books for the first time.


In addition to Greely’s sad story, Shackleton carried the Encyclopedia Brittanica, plays by George Bernard Shaw, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and a lot more. The books, unfortunately, went to the bottom of the sea when the Endurance broke apart and sank on November 21, 1915. As most of you know, all 28 men survived.

Here’s the full list of books in the library:

Encyclopedia Britannica

Seven short plays by Lady Gregory

Perch of the devil by Getrude Atherton

Pip by Ian Hey

Plays: pleasant and unpleasant, Vol 2 Pleasant by G B Shaw

Almayer’s folly by Joseph Conrad

Dr Brewer’s readers handbook

The Brassbounder by David Bone

The case of Miss Elliott by Emmuska Orczy

Raffles by EW Hornung

The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

Pros and cons: a newspaper reader’s and debater’s guide to the leading controversies of the day by JB Askew

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Woman’s view by Herbert Flowerdew

Thou Fool by JJ Bell

The Message of Fate by Louis Tracy

The Barrier by Rex Beach

Manual of English Grammar and Composition by Nesfield

A book of light verse

Oddsfish by Robert Hugh Benson

Poetical works of Shelley

Monsieur de Rochefort by H De Vere Stacpoole

Voyage of the Vega by Nordenskjold

The threshold of the unknown region by Clements Markham

Cassell’s book of quotations by W Gurney Benham

The concise Oxford dictionary

Chambers biographical dictionary

Cassell’s new German-English English-German dictionary

Chambers 20th Century dictionary

The northwest passage by Roald Amundsen

The voyage of the Fox in Arctic seas by McClintock

Whitaker’s almanac

World’s end by Amelie Rives

Potash and perlmutter by Montague Glass

Round the horn before the mast by A Basil Lubbock

The witness for the defence by AEW Mason

Five years of my life by Alfred Dreyfuss

The morals of Marcus Ordeyne by William J Locke

The rescue of Greely by Commander Winfield Scott Schley

United States Grinnell Expedition by Dr Kane

Three years of Arctic service by Greely

Voyage to the Polar Sea by Nares

Journal of HMS Enterprise by Collinson

Photo via the Royal Geographical Society

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