Madhouse at the End of the Earth Julian Sancton
Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton

Madhouse at the End of the Earth

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.

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.

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Photos from the book

Romanian naturalist Emile Racovitza. © De Gerlache Family Collection

Romanian naturalist Emil Racovitza. © De Gerlache Family Collection

The Belgica, rights to De Gerlache Family Collection

The Belgica anchored in what would come to be known as the Gerlache Strait, in the first few weeks of 1898. © De Gerlache Family Collection

The forecastle, seen from the nose of the Belgica. © De Gerlache Family Collection

The forecastle, seen from the nose of the Belgica. © De Gerlache Family Collection

Ludvig Johansen plays the accordion and Adam Tollef sen (far right) sits at the table

Ludvig Johansen plays the accordion and Adam Tollefsen (far right) sits at the table. © De Gerlache Family Collection

An excursion to an iceberg caught in the pack not far f rom the Belgica. Courtesy of the National Library of Norway

An excursion to an iceberg caught in the pack not far from the Belgica.Courtesy of the National Library of Norway

De Gerlache and an emperor penguin captured on the pack ice. © De Gerlache Family Collection

De Gerlache and an emperor penguin captured on the pack ice. © De Gerlache Family Collection

Praise

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

“A grade-A classic.”—The Sunday Times

“A vivid horror story . . . thrillingly recounted.”—The New York Review of Books

“As soon as you finish, you want to read it again.”—Daily Mail

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. I skipped all my weekend chores. I carved a groove into the couch, huddling under a big blanket because, reading this book makes you feel cold. And scared. And hungry . . . [It] reads like an adventure novel [and] is so detailed you can almost smell and taste it.”—Bon Appétit

“At once a riveting survival tale and a terrifying psychological thriller, Madhouse at the End of the Earth is a mesmerizing, unputdownable read. It deserves a place beside Alfred Lansing’s immortal classic Endurance.”—Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Valiant Ambition

Madhouse is that rare nonfiction gem—an obscure but important history transformed by deep research and note-perfect storytelling into a classic thriller. Reading this book is as much an adventure as the very story it tells."—Walter IsaacsonNew York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs

Madhouse at the End of the Earth has it all: idealism, ingenuity, ambition, explosives, flimflammery, a colorful cast, a blank map, a three-month-long night, penguins (and medicinal penguin meat). . . . A riveting tale, splendidly told.”—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Witches and Cleopatra

“A generation before Shackleton’s Endurance, an adventure every bit as bold and dreadful took place at the bottom of the world, led by a band of unimaginably colorful and resolute explorers. Julian Sancton has deftly rescued this forgotten saga from the deep freeze—and given us the next great contribution to polar literature.”—Hampton Sides, nationally bestselling author of In the Kingdom of Ice

Watch Julian Sancton discuss his research process for Madhouse at the End of the Earth

Julian Sancton
Photo: © Justin Bishop

Julian Sancton

Julian Sancton has been an editor at Vanity Fair, Esquire, and  Departures, and written for such publications as The New Yorker, Wired, and Playboy. He has reported from every continent,  including Antarctica, which he first visited while researching this book.

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