Though it’s not a military book, I’m going to take a cue from all those Commandant’s Reading Lists and toss this factual account of a 1914 Antarctic expedition in here because there are some lessons that carry over to military service. The book painstakingly details how a small crew of explorers endured 10 months in a frozen wasteland, survived shifting ice flows, frigid temperatures, near-starvation, illness, fatigue, frostbite, and on more than one occasion, dangerous encounters with natural predators, from sea leopards to killer whales.
Though much has been said about the expedition’s leader, Ernest Shackleton, what I found most compelling were the little, almost imperceptible, ways that individual sailors fought for one another’s survival. They shared food, gave up supplies for the well-being of the crew, took calculated risks for the benefit of others, divided up labor and responsibilities based on skill, fitness, and, as the expedition wore on, simply took turns, with each member stepping in to do the shittiest, toughest, most dangerous jobs. And like so many facing hardship, they found comfort in humor and solace in the time-honored tradition of bitching relentlessly — almost competitively — about their situation. It’s a testament to their will and spirit that among the litany of problems facing the crew of the Endurance, low morale never appeared to be one of them. It also serves as a reminder that mission accomplishment, whether that’s taking an objective or simply making it through the winter, cannot happen if troop welfare isn’t a priority. — James Clark, deputy editor