Review: EREBUS: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin (2021)

Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2018
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: freezing to death, starvation, light cannibalism, frostbite, hunting

HMS Erebus is one of the ships that went missing during the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845. What this book does, however, is tell the whole story of the ship, from her initial build to her Antarctic voyage to the last departure for the Northwest Passage. Author Michael Palin follows this ship’s intrepid voyage while also talking about the litany of captains at her helm and passengers in her hull.

Regardless my fascination with the Franklin Expedition and maritime Arctic exploration disasters, this audiobook is one of the best times I’ve had. There’s music and sound at the top of every chapter and Palin clearly has much enthusiasm for the topic at hand.

It’s clear through this story’s telling that Palin followed the journey of the ship. Not only did he go to the key sites, but he also balances personal anecdote with historical facts and story telling. Having the contemporary contextualization helps bring the story to life, as do all the myriad journal entries littered throughout. There’s a bit of light humor and laughing in the face of the absurdity that was going into the coldest, uncharted places on earth.

I found myself as glued to the specific expeditions as I was to the narrative arc. There’s survival, there’s cultural exchange, there are competing notions of the purpose and meaning of exploration. Almost everyone involved is a bit of a dick in his own ways, but it makes for such interesting historical fiction. My personal favorite parts are about the Arctic, where Palin personally advises which journals are worth reading (e.g. McCormick follows each newly discovered animal with how he shot it the next day).

Overall, a really fun time that spends as much page on what came before the greatest maritime mystery of all time as it does on the latest developments on the recovery of the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

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