Book review: Erebus – The story of a Ship (M. Palin)

posted in: Travel Books | 0

(Latest update: 20/10/2023)

What do you do when the remains of a vanished ship, lost for more than 150 years, are found? You write a book! This is the review of Erebus – The story of a Ship written by Michael Palin: a book about great explorers, scientific discoveries, naval history and incredible travels.

Cover of the book Erebus - the story of a ship by Michael Palin

Review: “Erebus – The story of a Ship” – Michael Palin – Arrow Books (2019)

The author

Michael Palin is a famous character known for his TV career more than for his books, even though he wrote many. He’s an English comedian, producer, writer and television presenter. He is mainly linked to his roles with the Monty Python but the list of shows he took part in is almost endless.
Palin wrote a bunch of books, following his travel documentaries, and in 2019 he released Erebus – Story of a Ship, mixing up his love for history and travels.

Plot (with the same kind of spoilers you would find on the back cover of the book!)

During the XIX century there were still plenty of areas of our world unknown to us. Many teams from different countries tried to map the unfriendly Antarctic, mainly for scientific reasons, and the equally dangerous Arctic, looking for the commercially handy “northern passage” that everybody hoped could be found.

Erebus and her sister ship Terror ventured to both Arctic and Antarctic. The latter travel was extremely successful: a three years journey in and out of the freezing southern ice, full of science experiments, land mapped and botanic discoveries. This very good result brought the possibility of a second mission: finding the “northern passage” above Canada.
In 1854 the two ships left from the British harbour to go missing after 2 years of travel, leaving behind mystery and unanswered questions.

170 years later, in 2014, the remains of Erebus were found by an underwater archaeological team, bringing up once more the interest for both her life and her last journey.

My opinion

I must say this is not an easy read. Erebus – Story of a Ship is an interesting book and Palin a fine writer. But the nautical terminology and the frequent references to geography and historical facts and characters, make it more complicated than a summer beach book.

I loved the maps in the book: they let me better understand the distances and the routes taken by the ships. Pictures are also a great add to the story, giving faces to names and a good idea of the historical context.

The story of the ship is fascinating. The simple idea that you could try to reach and cross the difficult frozen seas with sailing ships would today be absolutely madness. And here is the incredible tale of those that actually did it more that 150 ago!

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