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Madhouse At The End Of The World - Julian Sanction

As an antidote to the summer heat, try the new non-fiction Madhouse At The End Of The World, by Julian Sanction.  It describes the ill-fated journey to Antarctica (and aren’t they always il-fated it seems) by the Belgium explorer Adrien de Gerlache in the late 1880’s when that continent was unexplored and as mysterious to folks as the universe is to us today.

The journey on a steam ship with a small number of sailors to uncharted waters encounters endless mishaps, lack of funding and death, and while the ship the Belgica does eventually arrive at its destination, it becomes trapped in the ice there for a full Winter, and disease and madness start to run their course as the men are frozen, hungry and trapped without a guarantee of leaving once the ice breaks up six months later, if in fact it does.

How they escape, and the men on the ship are what make this interesting, included the famed Polar (spoiler alert) explorers of later expeditions, Roald Amundsen and Dr. Frederick Cook. One of these famous in their time adventurers ends badly in prison, one enjoys world renown, but both are heroic in their time on the Belgica. You can feel the icy cold of Antarctica while reading this story, so its ideal for a sunny beach day I think.

If you like this, try also Dan Simmons’ The Terror, a fictionalized version of what happened to similar ships in an earlier time, which is a great read. If you’d rather skip the book and watch the mini-series, the recent version on cable was incredibly well done and extremely evocative of what it must have been like to have been cut off in a far away frozen world with little hope of survival. Both are terrific.


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