Cassell’s Tales of Endurance by Fergus Fleming - review by Christopher Ondaatje

Christopher Ondaatje

Meeting the Unknown

Cassell’s Tales of Endurance


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 518pp £20

There have already been two good anthologies on exploration in the last three or four years: Travels, Explorations and Empires: Writings from the Era of Imperial Expansion 1770–1835 (eight volumes, 2002), edited by Tim Fulford and Peter J Kitson; and The Faber Book of Exploration (2001–2), edited by Benedict Allen. Both these books offer sensitive and thought-provoking discussions of the writings of the world’s greatest explorers, as well as providing us with a wide selection of the writings themselves. In both cases it must have been difficult for the editors to make their selections. Now, however, Fergus Fleming (author of the best-selling Barrow’s Boys) has written Cassell’s Tales of Endurance, a collection of over forty stories of heroism, resolution, and the will to survive. He has divided these tales between the Age of Reconnaissance, the Age of Inquiry, and the Age of Endeavour, ‘equating roughly to the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Industrial eras’. Each of the three sections is prefaced with an essay by the author which introduces aspects of the age and identifies themes in the stories that follow. They are worth the price of the book alone.

Fleming has set out to construct ‘a sort-of history of exploration’. He starts in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, ‘with the birth of exploration literature’, and ends in the 1920s, ‘when the combustion engine transformed the raw nature of the quest’. Again, the choice as to which explorers to include

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