Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night

Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night


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The harrowing true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter--in the tradition of David Grann, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Hampton Sides

“Deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick
“A riveting tale, splendidly told . . . Madhouse at the End of the Earth has it all.”—Stacy Schiff
“Julian Sancton has deftly rescued this forgotten saga from the deep freeze.”—Hampton Sides

In August 1897, thirty-one-year-old commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail aboard the Belgica, fueled by a profound sense of adventure and dreams of claiming glory for his native Belgium. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. But the commandant's plans for a three-year expedition to reach the magnetic South Pole would be thwarted at each turn. Before the ship cleared South America, it had already broken down, run aground, and lost several key crew members, leaving behind a group with dubious experience for such an ambitious voyage.

As the ship progressed into the freezing waters, the captain had to make a choice: turn back and spare his men the potentially devastating consequences of getting stuck, or recklessly sail deeper into the ice pack to chase glory and fame. He sailed on, and the Belgica soon found itself stuck fast in the icy hold of the Antarctic continent. The ship would winter on the ice. Plagued by a mysterious, debilitating illness and besieged by the monotony of their days, the crew deteriorated as their confinement in suffocating close quarters wore on and their hope of escape dwindled daily. As winter approached the days grew shorter, until the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, condemning the ship's occupants to months of quarantine in an endless night.

Forged in fire and carved by ice, Antarctica proved a formidable opponent for the motley crew. Among them was Frederick Cook, an American doctor--part scientist, part adventurer, part P.T. Barnum--whose unorthodox methods delivered many of the crew from the gruesome symptoms of scurvy and whose relentless optimism buoyed their spirits through the long, dark polar night. Then there was Roald Amundsen, a young Norwegian who went on to become a storied polar explorer in his own right, exceeding de Gerlache's wildest dreams by leading the first expeditions to traverse the Northwest Passage and reach the South Pole.

Drawing on firsthand accounts of the Belgica's voyage and exclusive access to the ship's logbook, Sancton tells the tale of its long, isolated imprisonment on the ice--a story that NASA studies today in its research on isolation for missions to Mars. In vivid, hair-raising prose, Sancton recounts the myriad forces that drove these men right up to and over the brink of madness.

Title:Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night
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    Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night Reviews

  • Jenny Lawson

    It took a chapter or two to get into it but then I was hooked. Fascinating story....

  • Erin

    I love reading about the Arctic, so I decided to venture southward and learn more about its polar (ha) opposite. Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a detailed, gripping account of the Belgica expedit...

  • Lou

    Madhouse at the End of the Earth revolves around an early polar expedition that went devastatingly awry trapping the ship’s crew on board and frozen solid for the entirety of the dark, frigid Antarc...

  • Joyce

    368 pages5 starsThis book has lengthy and interesting discussions about three of the key characters: Adrien de Gerlache, Roald Admundsen and Dr. Frederick Cook. Mr. Sancton talks about their childhood...

  • Kate Southey

    This book was incredible! Julian Sancton manages to include meticulous research and authentic scientific and maritime details while making the book read like a ‘ripping yarn’. I am so glad that th...

  • Nancy Oakes

    much more soon. for now: I liked this one. The Belgica expedition seemed destined for failure even before the ship arrived in Antarctica, but somehow made it there and back. on the personal side: I fe...

  • Brett

    This book is an amazing accomplishment. I am generally not a fan of adventure non-fiction, and I feel trapped as soon as I step aboard a boat. But the book is so well written, the story so compellingl...

  • AltLovesBooks

    "We are no longer navigators, but a small colony of prisoners serving their sentence."This is my second voyage (ha!) with a polar expedition book, the first being In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and ...

  • Ophelia Alderton

    I do like adventure stories but I never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. The author provides the most page-turning and thrilling account of one of the first polar expeditions to Antarctic...

  • Buddy Scalera

    The title of the book caught my attention. The wonderful writing and incredible research kept me to the end. The prose is tight, colorful, and dramatic. I'd never heard about this Beligica or the jour...