Madhouse At the End of the Earth
The Belgica set sail from Europe on a sunny day in August 1897, intent upon becoming the first scientific expedition ever to reach the South Pole. But after setbacks slowed its progress, ice closed in and ensnared the ship. Temperatures plummeted, winds howled, perpetual darkness fell. The crew were to make history for a different reason: they were to be the first adventurers to face the brutal Antarctic winter, completely cut off from the world. What began as an audacious scientific mission morphed into an epic struggle for survival. As the men battled blizzards, hunger, depression, rats and scurvy, some became inconsolable, some mad, while others were consumed by infections that turned them into living corpses. It was down to the strongest characters to step up: namely the notorious surgeon Dr Frederik Cook and the first mate, a young Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen.
‘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.