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  • Erebus

  • One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time
  • Written by: Michael Palin
  • Narrated by: Michael Palin
  • Length: 11 hrs and 5 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (167 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Intrepid voyager, writer, and comedian Michael Palin follows the trail of two expeditions made by the Royal Navy's HMS Erebus to opposite ends of the globe, reliving the voyages and investigating the ship itself, lost on the final Franklin expedition and discovered with the help of Inuit knowledge in 2014.

The story of a ship begins after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, when Great Britain had more bomb ships than it had enemies. The solid, reinforced hulls of HMS Erebus, and another bomb ship, HMS Terror, made them suitable for discovering what lay at the coldest ends of the earth.

In 1839, Erebus was chosen as the flagship of an expedition to penetrate south to explore Antarctica. Under the leadership of the charismatic James Clark Ross, she and HMS Terror sailed further south than anyone had been before. But Antarctica never captured the national imagination; what the British navy needed now was confirmation of its superiority by making the discovery, once and for all, of a route through the Northwest Passage.

Chosen to lead the mission was Sir John Franklin, at 59 someone many considered too old for such a hazardous journey. Nevertheless, he and his men confidently sailed away down the Thames in April 1845. Provisioned for three winters in the Arctic, Erebus and Terror and the 129 men of the Franklin expedition were seen heading west by two whalers in late July.

No one ever saw them again. 

Over the years there were many attempts to discover what might have happened - and eventually the first bodies were discovered in shallow graves, confirming that it had been the dreadful fate of the explorers to die of hunger and scurvy as they abandoned the ships in the ice.

For generations, the mystery of what had happened to the ships endured. Then, on September 9th, 2014, came the almost unbelievable news: HMS Erebus had been discovered 30 feet below the Arctic waters, by a Parks Canada exploration ship.

Palin looks at the Erebus story through the different motives of the two expeditions, one scientific and successful, the other nationalistic and disastrous. He examines the past by means of the extensive historical record and travels in the present day to those places where there is still an echo of Erebus herself, from the dockyard where she was built to Tasmania where the Antarctic voyage began and the Falkland Islands, then on to the Canadian Arctic, to get a sense of what the conditions must have been like for the starving, stumbling sailors as they abandoned their ships to the ice. And of course the story has a future. It lies 10 metres down in the waters of Nunavut's Queen Maud Gulf, where many secrets wait to be revealed.

©2018 Michael Palin (P)2018 Random House Canada

What the critics say

Winner, 2019 John Lyman Book Awards - Canadian Naval and Maritime History

“Beyond terrific. I didn't want it to end.” (Bill Bryson) 

“What more could a reader ask for? Fascinating mystery, chilling adventure, compelling characters—one a powerful woman, another made of wood and sails - and simply terrific writing by Michael Palin.” (Roy MacGregor, author of Original Highways: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada)   

“At this late date, and against all odds, Michael Palin has found an original way to enter and explore the Royal Navy narrative of polar exploration. Palin is a superb stylist, low-key and conversational, who skillfully incorporates personal experience. He turns up obscure facts, reanimates essential moments, and never shies away from taking controversial positions. This beautifully produced volume - colour plates, outstanding maps - is a landmark achievement.” (Ken McGoogan, author of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage

What listeners say about Erebus

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Such a gripping story!

This is what I would have liked to learn in history class: Palin brings such passion to the subject that you can learn not just what happened to the Erebus, but why you should care.

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loved this book.

Enjoyed every minute of the book, a must for anyone interested in the history of polar exploration.

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Soothing Performance if Slightly Dry

Just as the heading says. I enjoyed Michael Palin's reading and narrative style and I found it interesting, but not exactly engrossing.

I mostly used it as something soothingly rhythmic to put on in the background where I didn't have to worry if my attention drifted for a bit.

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just so super!

a fascinating listen. Mr. Palin has made me want to travel! I felt as though I could see and feel the Erebus.

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Loved it - have maps handy.

I had a hard copy of the book from the library to reference maps, pictures, and review some dates and stuff.

But I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book.

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Ship of Magic

I don't think anyone could have written or narrated this book other than Michael Palin. Each of the Monty Python members excelled at other forms of storytelling; Palin's is travel and the history of travel and exploration. I have seen all of his BBC travel documentaries, and this book, just like the documentaries, managed to keep me engaged throughout, often at the edge of my seat! The narration paints a vivid image of what the brave sailors and crew of Erebus and Terror went through during their adventures in the Antarctic and the Arctic. If you're interested in tales of exploration, this book is definitely for you.

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  • A
  • 2022-01-29

great book on exploration

this is overall a really good book. perfect length and Palin's narration is always on point. the story focuses on the ship Erebus as opposed to one specific journey and that is a good choice. even the author's notes about traveling to the places in modern modern times is engaging . overall a really fun book.

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Amazing story

Michael breathes life into this story. His passion for the topic is obvious. While it is a story of a ship, it is a very human story. Anyone with a slight interest in the history of exploration should listen NOW!

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Thoroughly enjoyed!

Fasinating tale, well put together and well written. Excellent narration as well. I really appreciate a story guided by curiosity and genuine interest in the topic, as opposed to a piece an agenda. Nothing more fasinating or outlandish than reality. :)

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Stranger than fiction

You can't make this stuff up! What a story, and so well told by Palin. I didn't want it to end.

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  • Dwayne
  • 2018-10-25

Much more to Erebus than the Franklin Expedition

Like so many others, I had only known of the HMS Erebus because of the Franklin Expedition. I loved that Palin went to such great lengths to document what life was like onboard the ship during her Antarctic voyage. It helps to fill in some of the void as to what it must have been like for the men when they voyaged into the North. Highly recommended.