• Madhouse at the End of the Earth

  • The Belgica's Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night
  • By: Julian Sancton
  • Narrated by: Vikas Adam
  • Length: 13 hrs and 28 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (750 ratings)

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Madhouse at the End of the Earth

By: Julian Sancton
Narrated by: Vikas Adam
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Publisher's summary

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The “exquisitely researched and deeply engrossing” (The New York Times) 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

“The energy of the narrative never flags. . . . Sancton has produced a thriller.”—The Wall Street Journal

In August 1897, the young Belgian commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail for a three-year expedition aboard the good ship Belgica with dreams of glory. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica.

But de Gerlache’s plans to be first to the magnetic South Pole would swiftly go awry. After a series of costly setbacks, the commandant faced two bad options: turn back in defeat and spare his men the devastating Antarctic winter, or recklessly chase fame by sailing deeper into the freezing waters. De Gerlache sailed on, and soon the Belgica was stuck fast in the icy hold of the Bellingshausen Sea. When the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, the ship’s occupants were condemned to months of endless night. In the darkness, plagued by a mysterious illness and besieged by monotony, they descended into madness.

In Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton unfolds an epic story of adventure and horror for the ages. As the Belgica’s men teetered on the brink, de Gerlache relied increasingly on two young officers whose friendship had blossomed in captivity: the expedition’s lone American, Dr. Frederick Cook—half genius, half con man—whose later infamy would overshadow his brilliance on the Belgica; and the ship’s first mate, soon-to-be legendary Roald Amundsen, even in his youth the storybook picture of a sailor. Together, they would plan a last-ditch, nearly certain-to-fail escape from the ice—one that would either etch their names in history or doom them to a terrible fate at the ocean’s bottom.

Drawing on the diaries and journals of the Belgica’s crew and with exclusive access to the ship’s logbook, Sancton brings novelistic flair to a story of human extremes, one so remarkable that even today NASA studies it for research on isolation for future missions to Mars. Equal parts maritime thriller and gothic horror, Madhouse at the End of the Earth is an unforgettable journey into the deep.

©2021 Julian Sancton (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

Madhouse at the End of the Earth [is an] exquisitely researched and deeply engrossing account of the Belgica’s disastrous Antarctic expedition. Sancton uses...an extraordinary treasure trove...to tease out the personalities and fears and rivalries of his subjects [in] his increasingly harrowing descriptions of life on the Belgica.” (The New York Times)

“An extraordinary tale of ambition, folly, heroism and survival, superbly told by Julian Sancton, who has rescued the Belgica’s story from relative obscurity and brought it to magnificent life...[a] splendid, beautifully written book.” (The Spectator)

“I started reading Madhouse at the End of the Earth...and I couldn’t stop. [It] reads like an adventure novel [and] is so detailed you can almost smell and taste it.” (Bon Appétit)

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