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Book Review: Endurance - An extensive compendium of iconic adventures

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

Written by: Levison Wood

Published by: Head of Zeus

Historical Era: From Ancient Greece to Modern Day

Recommended reading age: Adult


I must admit that 'Endurance: 100 Tales of Survival, Adventure and Exploration' was not what I expected. I was left wanting more narrative from Levison himself, as his experiences would have added an extra dimension to the retelling of these well trodden paths.


Instead, Endurance by Levison Wood is an extensive compendium of iconic adventures featuring famous figures like Ernest Shackleton, Yuri Gagarin and Amelia Earheart, plus adventure fiction classics like Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, The Odyssey by Homer and Prometheus by Lord Byron.


Whilst this works, how much you engage with each story varies depending upon the quality of the original text, and the extract chosen. The result is an eclectic mix of accounts that form an encyclopaedia of sorts.


The running order does not lend itself to reading cover to cover. For example, to go from Yossi Ghinsberg’s Lost in the Jungle which uses more modern narrative tools, to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with its very traditional language, is too broad a leap and, I feel, prevents you from appreciating each story in its own right. It is definitely a book best experienced by dipping in and out at your leisure.


My favourite chapter of Endurance by far was ‘Courage Under Fire’. This comprised tales from those who witnessed or survived conflict or persecution. I enjoyed this chapter because they were tales I hadn’t heard before. As someone who has already absorbed so many accounts of adventure, exploration and survival the majority of the book was already familiar to me. In some instances, my prior knowledge actually led me to question the choice of extract chosen, as I didn’t think they always captured the magic that was the reason for their inclusion in the first place.


There were a few stories in Endurance I had wanted to read for a while, such as Yuri Gagarin’s experiences as the first man in space. There were also some that I’d not heard of, like Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The former, I’ve now concluded I will avoid because, his writing, whilst interesting, was of its time, and far too ideological for my taste. The latter, I’ve just purchased for my Kindle and is next on my reading list!


What I particularly liked about Endurance was the number of female figures featured, and the majority were stories I had not heard. These are people who often get lost when we discuss great feats of exploration or survival. For example, Katherine Routledge, Laura Dekker, and Nellie Bly; intrepid explorers each, who pushed the limits in terms of gender norms and exploration. Plus Juliane Koepcke, Katherine Page, and Harriet Jacobs whose tales of survival are in equal parts harrowing and inspirational. For this alone, I would recommend Endurance.


However, I was disappointed by the quality of the copy in places. There were a number of spelling errors. One story in particular featured several of these errors - Yossi Ghinsberg’s Lost in the Jungle - that is it was difficult to appreciate the account.


In summary, Endurance was a really detailed compilation, and it has inspired me to purchase some of the original texts; however, I would be hesitant to spend £25.00 on the hardback edition as I didn’t think the quality was always there.


But I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an introduction to these greats of exploration and wants to try a sample before purchasing the original text, or if you want to learn more about some pioneering female explorers of our time.


A huge thank you to Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy of 'Endurance: 100 Tales of Survival, Adventure and Exploration' to review.


If you'd like to purchase the book, you can do so on the Head of Zeus website.

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