If you’re planning on taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Arctic or Antarctica, get inspired for your adventure by reading books about the explorers who have gone before you. There are so many page-turning tales of the great expeditions to the polar regions, full of incredible feats of bravery and heroic confrontations with the remote and astonishing wilderness. Here are a few of our favorites to get you in the mood for your own polar journey.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
A portrait of Ernest Shackleton. Source: Canva
This book about Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to reach the South Pole is the definitive account of the harrowing journey. When his ship, Endurance, is trapped and then crushed between ice floes, Shackleton and his crew find themselves stranded in the Antarctic. The tale of their survival, compiled from the journals Shackleton and his men kept, is one you’ll find difficult to put down.
The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard
A Portrait of Robert Falcon Scott. Source: Canva
This is a firsthand account of Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, written by one of the three men who survived the journey. Combining his own recollections with the diaries from others on the crew, Cherry-Garrard tells of the 1910-1913 voyage that reached the South Pole just after Amundsen, but whose explorers did not make it back.
The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole, Roland Huntford
Roald Amundsen. Source: Canva
For further insight into the great competition to make it to the South Pole first, read Roland Huntford’s detailed study of the great race between Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen. With a thorough look into the motivations and characters of the two explorers, Huntford also sets the stage of the modern age of exploration at the beginning of the 20th century. Even though you know how the story ends, the book has the gripping suspense of an unputdownable thriller.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, Hampton Sides
With brilliant storytelling, Hampton Sides recounts the tale of the USS Jeannette and its expedition from San Francisco to the Arctic in 1879. Captain George Washington De Long aspired to be the first to reach the North Pole, but he and his crew were forced to abandon their ship two years into the voyage. Stranded in Siberia with minimal supplies, the group began the trek back to civilization, facing the intimidating wilderness, starvation, and encounters with polar bears along the way.
Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, Andrea Pitzer
William Barents Arctic expedition in the 16th Century. Source: Canva
This book looks at the expeditions of Dutch explorer William Barents in the 16th century, long before the quests of Amundsen and Shackleton. Barents made three forays into the Far North, and only on the third faced challenges when his ship got stuck in the ice. What makes this such a fascinating read is that the author reconstructs the events 400 years later, using the same navigation tools and retracing his steps across the Arctic.
Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition, Buddy Levy
Lieutenant Adolphus Greely and a crew of two dozen men set out for the Far North in 1881. The expedition’s goal was scientific research, and they also set a record for farthest north, but after that things got complicated. With unfavorable conditions, supply boats were unable to get through, and they found themselves with no way back. This highly researched account details the battles with starvation, madness, and the elements that Greely and his crew faced in their struggle to survive.
Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez
National Book Award winner Arctic Dreams thoroughly explores the region, looking at the history, biology, anthropology, and the wonders of nature in the Arctic. Along with describing the history of the Inuit and the explorers, it investigates the effect of the Far North on our collective imagination, and does so in writing that is as poetic as it is analytical. This work will delight both those who know a lot about the Arctic already, and those who are just beginning to learn about it.
A Woman in the Polar Night, Christiane Ritter
Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. Source: Canva
A riveting look at the Arctic from a different perspective, this is the story of Christiane Ritter, an Austrian painter who in 1933 went to the island of Spitsbergen to live with her husband in a tiny cabin. In this memoir, she describes the landscape in great detail and with an artistic sensibility. Her story is one of natural wonders and startling wildlife in this isolated part of the world.
The White Darkness, David Grann
Henry Worsley was a man obsessed with Ernest Shackleton, as well as a descendant of Frank Worsley, one of Shackleton’s men. He spent years collecting artifacts and modeling himself on the great explorer. At age 55, Worsley set out to complete Shackleton’s unfinished mission of crossing Antarctica on foot. This book recounts the difficult and perilous trek Worsley took in 2015.
The Terror, Dan Simmons
If you prefer fiction, Dan Simmons’ imagining of the 1845 Franklin Expedition is the perfect tome to immerse yourself in the world of Arctic exploration. Setting out in search for the Northwest Passage, the crew on board the Terror become stranded in the Arctic Circle and must face the cold, lack of food, and an unknown entity out in the darkness.
Let us know if we’ve left out a favorite book of yours, or what you think if you check out one of the titles on our recommended reading list. While these books are ideal to inspire you as you wait for your trip, they are also perfect to pack for your downtime while on board.
What will your polar exploration story be? The stunning expanses of the Arctic and Antarctica are waiting for you to embark on your own great expedition. Check out our departures and decide what your next chapter will be like!