I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor. I can barely put it down.
I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way. I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD. I do background research on the people, the places and the times. Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.
I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so. In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories. They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious. But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world. I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.
In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style? Was it effective? What can I apply in my context? If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership. But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing. And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.