When Your Life Depends On It

Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic

“Absolutely inspiring. To me this should be required life reading.” Jean Bartlett, columnist.

This book puts you right into the action of the life-and-death decisions made by early Antarctic explorers. It is packed with unforgettable stories about the challenges and decisions they faced.

In When Your Life Depends on It, you’ll discover:

  • 11 of the most thrilling survival stories in the history of exploration.
  • Incredible, almost unbelievable stories of bravery.
  • Camaraderie and teamwork even when all hope is lost.
  • True tales of courage, resilience and even humor in the most risky and dangerous circumstances.
  • Heroic situations where life literally hangs in the balance… in a crevasse in the most hostile environment on Earth, where split seconds make a difference to who survives.


★★★★★ “A page-turner with true stories that will sear you to the depth of your soul. David Wilson, world-renowned Antarctic historian

★★★★★ “Excellent and compelling.” Geoff Hudson-Searle, Executive and best-selling author

★★★★★ “Clever, informative and extremely well researched.” Baz Grey, CEO, explorer and mountaineer

Co-written by a decision expert and a historian, both possessing a flair for fast-paced, action-packed storytelling, When Your Life Depends on It reveals the mind-set of gritty explorers who risked, and in some cases gave their lives, for science, discovery and exploration.

Buy When Your Life Depends on It and get immersed in one of the most remarkable periods in human history. Start your Antarctic adventure today!

Available on all Amazon sites worldwide: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, UK, USA

Audiobook: available from Audible, Chirp, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, Libro.FM, Nook, Scribd, and Walmart and others. Download the Audiobook supplemental PDF.

Endorsed by modern Polar explorers and descendants of the early Antarctic explorers

“A remarkable book"

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

The greatest Polar explorer in our lifetime

“Polar book of the year”

Jonathan Shackleton

Descendant of Ernest Shackleton

Co-written by Brad Borkan (a decision scientist) and David Hirzel (an Antarctic historian) and endorsed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes (the greatest living explorer), When Your Life Depends on It is filled with tales of resilience that resonate with people who love travel and adventure as well as those seeking insights into human behavior. It reveals the mind-set of the brave men who risked, and in some cases gave their lives, for science, discovery and exploration.

Buy When Your Life Depends on It today to learn about one of the most inspirational periods of history and in the process learn new strategies to improve your own personal and business decision making.

Paperback and Kindle: available on all Amazon sites worldwide: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, UK, USA

Audiobook: available from Audible, Chirp, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, Libro.FM, Nook, Scribd, and Walmart and others. Download the Audiobook supplemental PDF.

Signed copies available from the authors. Please email brad.borkan.author@gmail.com

1st Place Winner

Chanticleer International Book Awards: I&I Non-fiction category

Gold Medal Winner - Wishing Shelf Awards

Gold Award Winner

Wishing Shelf Literary Awards: Best Audiobook


Voice Arts Awards: Best Audiobook - History Category

Best Decision Making Books 3 logos

Top 100 Best Decision Making Books of All Time

Bob Headland (right) is the world's foremost authority on Polar history. Bob, along with 6 other leading Antarctic historians, vetted our book.
Jonathan Shackleton (related to Sir Ernest Shackleton) with Brad
Arved Fuchs (left) is one of the greatest living Polar explorers, and the first man to walk to the North and South Poles in one year.
Seb Coulthard (left) was one of the six men who recreated Shackleton's boat journey in 2013 for the Discovery Channel.

About the authors

Brad Borkan — has a lifelong interest in how people and businesses survive, and thrive, in almost impossible situations. Brad is an inspirational and motivational speaker. He has presented at business and Antarctic conferences, appeared on cable TV in the US, and on Internet talk radio programs. He has also presented on an Antarctic expedition cruise ship to 114 passengers. His talks focus on leadership, team work, and winning against the odds all set in the context of Polar exploration. He is based in London and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and a member of the Society of Authors.

David Hirzel is a maritime and Antarctic historian, author, and small business owner living in California. David has been a guest lecturer for Viking and Windstar Cruise Lines, and has presented at business conferences and at university courses. His polar books include a 3-part polar biography of the Irish explorer Tom Crean, a key player in Scott’s and Shackleton’s expeditions.  He also runs Terra Nova Press, a small, independent publisher.

I thoroughly recommend When Your Life Depends on It. Thanks to this remarkable book, you won’t need to face extreme Antarctic weather to learn effective decision making techniques that will help you in modern life.”

Some of Sir Ranulph’s many achievements:

  • First to reach both Poles (with Charles Burton).
  • First to cross Antarctic and Arctic Ocean (with Charles Burton).
  • First to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis (with Charles Burton).‘This 3-year52,000 mile odyssey took intricate planning, 1900 sponsors, a 52 person team, complex communications, meticulous planning and iron determination mixed with flexibility. The circumnavigation has never been successfully repeated.
  • Achieved world record for unsupported northerly polar travel in 1990.
  • Achieved world first in 1992/1993 by completing the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent (with Mike Stroud). This was the longest unsupported polar journey in history.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

The greatest Polar explorer in our lifetime

Congratulations on an excellent book — well constructed, clearly laid out, very readable treatment vividly linking the leadership, team work and crucial decision making by Amundsen, Mawson, Scott and Shackleton and their companions on their historic Antarctic expeditions to important issues of leadership and decision making in our lives today.

The chapters and their “punchy” headings lead the reader through key issues with well and succinctly told stories from that era. The authors succeed very well in engaging the reader to relate them to their present day lives by asking very pertinent questions getting the reader to think for themselves about what decisions they would have made. These stories are a rich part of the history of human nature and endeavour, which still resound in our world today.

The summary tables and appendices at the end are most useful, showing the ships, huts, key people and teams, and recommended reading. I like the way you have added stars for your personal recommendations!

I have recommended this book at a talk I gave in Dublin in May to managers in Dropbox’s European HQ in Dublin and again two weeks ago when I gave a talk at the Good Life Festival at Gladstone’s Hawarden Estate in Wales where I held up my copy at the end of my talk and said it was my Polar Book of the Year.

Jonathan Shackleton

Descendant of Sir Ernest Shackleton

My grandfather was Reginald Skelton, Chief Engineer and principal photographer on Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in Discovery.

I’ve never forgotten the excitement of visits to the Discovery ship, with its display of polar clothing and equipment, while it was moored on the Thames Embankment when I was growing up. This keen interest in South Polar exploration led me in later life to publish the entire text of Skelton’s Antarctic journals as well as collaborating with David Wilson on Discovery Illustrated.

When Your Life Depends on It shows that these expeditions were not just history, but that they have modern day relevance. We can all benefit from using the decision strategies that made these expeditions so successful. We don’t have to be knee-deep in snow in the midst of Antarctica in the early 1900’s to take away key learnings. I am happy wholeheartedly to recommend the book to people of all ages, in all walks of life.

Judy Skelton

Grand-daughter of Reginald Skelton

Reading When Your Life Depends on It provides a real treat for history lovers, action-adventure seekers, and those committed to making a real difference in their business enterprise.

Overlaying decision-making lessons of the early 1900 expeditions in the Antarctic with current day business decisions invites a shift in mind-set and action taking. Critical questions are posed, which are relatable, thought provoking and meaningful.

Grab a sweater and a warm drink as you discover the true stories of these heroic South Pole explorers.

Kathy Fairbanks

Director of Client Solutions at Klemmer Leadership Seminars, Inc

Incredibly engaging …

… immerses you into the amazing world of polar exploration—full of larger-than-life adventures.

The stories—and the settings—are gripping, exhilarating and inspiring.

But this book is also about something much larger—the deep, true, higher nature of all human beings. These men displayed highly heroic and compassionate morality in countless situations where supreme sacrifices were required. They made difficult decisions based on core values such as loyalty, devotion, commitment, friendship, love and more.

Along with being an immensely enjoyable read, When Your Life Depends On It will inspire you to contemplate your own values, and help you to shine an inner light on how you make decisions. We can all learn a lot from these heroic men, and in turn can incorporate these precious lessons into our own much-more-simple everyday lives.

Lily O'Brien

San Francisco

I have just finished reading your book in sunny Portugal — where despite the heat I have found myself shivering while following the travails of the frostbitten and half-starved …

I think you’ve got a great book. It’s really well-written, keeping a good pace and bringing home the realities of the situations you’ve described. I think people will love it.

I have been telling my family about the most amazing stories: depots prepared but never even used; risking lives for emperor penguin eggs…They are now looking forward to reading it themselves once published!

Kate Walters

London, UK

One of the best books I have ever read.

Every Antarctic story in the book is interesting and memorable. There is a parable to the real life at the end of every story and the parables gives to you splendid tools and ideas e.g. for the decision making, how to listen to yourself and others when making decisions and these tools can be applied in your career or just in daily life. Stories in the book also gives to you an idea what it means to be a brave.

This book tells real stories about what good and marvellous things might happen when we find that endless willpower inside of us.

Antti Savola

Adventurer | Entrepreneur | CEO

This book brings to life a time when ordinary people faced extraordinary challenges as they pushed forward the boundaries of human knowledge against powerful forces in a hostile environment.

The stories and the decision making lessons derived from them will stay with you for the rest of your life.

David Wilson

Author, Historian & Descendant of Dr. Edward Wilson

Quite simply, if it wasn’t for Shackleton’s leadership skills, I would not be here today. My grandfather, Alexander Kerr, was one of the youngest members of the Endurance Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. I was lucky to know my grandfather and hear his stories first hand. My wife Val and I both have a passionate interest in the Heroic Age of Exploration and the characters of that era, attending Antarctic conferences and lectures, reading original and new accounts of expeditions.

This book brings the life or death decisions of those often ‘ordinary’ men of the Heroic Age right up-to-date, breathing a whole new life into their adventures. The stories are no longer just my grandfather’s history, but now a living part of decision strategies that everyone can use in their own lives.

Don Kerr

Grandson of Alexander Kerr, who was a member of the Endurance Expedition and one of the 22 men left under Wild’s command on a desolate Elephant Island awaiting rescue

Here is an excellent book. Plenty has been written about the ambitions and grit of the Polar explorers of the early 1900s; so it is refreshing that this book takes a different angle.

Brad Borkan and David Hirzel cleverly analyse decisions made in extreme polar circumstances (where communication was ‘as far as you can shout’). Their trick is to pull out the universal and timeless lessons, and they really do make you think! It’s things like; making the best from a bad decision; reframing what success looks like when you need to; and nobility under extreme pressure… which give these stories the ability to reach through time and resonate if not to jolt us today.

T Jarvis

Managing Director of a consultancy firm in London

This book is a page-turner that teaches resilience and leadership in one unforgettable package. I told one of my friends it is like a Bruce Willis movie with all of the boring bits cut out and just the action scenes left.

Steven Armstrong

Business Executive, London, UK

First, big congratulations on your wonderful book again! I’ve read it in the plane back home and it is brilliant! Also a great gift for future senior leadership meetings.

You definitely should send copies to our entire executive board!

Martin Ras

VP at a Fortune 500 company

An excellent and compelling read, one that not only relates to the relentless extremities of life and death decisions in the Antarctic, but one that can be mirrored into your every day life at a trajectory where determination, resilience, purpose and focus is required to make life changing decisions, where learnings across perseverance through challenging adversity can be the only option.

Geoff Hudson-Searle

C-Suite Executive, Thought Leader, and Author of Freedom After the Sharks and Meaningful Conversations

I recently had the pleasure of listening to one of Brad’s talks, and I have read the book too. It is inspired and written not to tell the reader what to think but instead make him/her think. It gets you to ask the questions in a different way all together. It’s clever, informative, extremely well researched and a must for all Polar history enthusiasts. It is not just for the bookshelf, but for reading and enjoying.

Barry (Baz) Gray

Explorer, Mountaineer, Member of the 6-man team that recreated Shackleton’s boat journey. In 2019, Baz completed a solo, unsupported journey to the South Pole.

Video Trailers & Samples

Read Sample Chapter

Sample Chapter

It’s your call

Antarctica. The early 1900’s. The only communication is as far as you can shout.

You and your two companions are nearing the end of a fifteen-hundred-mile trek to a nameless spot on the South Polar Plateau.

To say conditions are harsh would be an understatement. Temperatures can get so low that you risk frostbite even when bundled in your reindeer-hide sleeping bags. The jagged, frozen landscape provides constant challenges, including the danger of crevasses cracking open unexpectedly beneath your feet, plunging you into their depths. At times you have been on the verge of starvation.

Your presence here today is the result of countless decisions great and small made along the way, but right now you are faced with one greater than any that came before. One of your companions has fallen so ill with scurvy he can no longer walk.

Seventy miles of dangerous terrain lie ahead before you reach the safety of your base camp, and you will have to drag him on the sledge, adding an almost unbearable weight to that of your ice-encrusted tent and the last remnants of food keeping you alive.

The reality of the situation is grim. You must maintain a steady pace each day, regardless of the weather, to reach the next depot of supplies before those on hand run out. Your daily distances have fallen off, and continue to fall. The sick man, already perilously near death, is unlikely to survive the remainder of the journey.

With his extra weight further reducing your daily mileage, neither will you and your other companion. You all know the fate that lies ahead. The sick man tells the two of you to leave him here on the Barrier and march on ahead with the sledge and supplies, to save yourselves while you can. The three of you have developed a close camaraderie during your long walk; leaving him to perish on the ice is inconceivable. The obvious, ethical, human decision: to shoulder your burden and do your best.

The situation is not so straightforward. You are seamen and the sick man is your commanding officer. At this specific point, he has commanded you to leave him behind. The one thing that has been repeatedly drilled into you throughout your entire working life is this: there is no occasion on which you can refuse to comply with the order of an officer.

To obey means the two of you have at least a chance at survival; to refuse is mutiny, and certain death for all three of you.

The choice is now yours – it’s your call.

How will you decide?

* * *

This was a real event faced by real people. They did have to make this call. Their decision and the outcome may surprise you. You will find the rest of the story later in this book.

Start of Chapter 1:

People make decisions every day, but not like those made by polar explorers in the early 1900s. Yet, there is much that we can learn from their extraordinary stories that can help us make better decisions in our own modern lives.

The early Antarctic explorers were not perfect decision makers. However they were exceptionally good at facing the reality of every situation, taking choices as they arose, and even if they did not make an ideal decision, making the very best of whatever situation they found themselves in.

They set and achieved monumental goals in an extreme environment.  They did this while encountering jaw-dropping amounts of adversity and risk which they overcame through teamwork, leadership, and sheer grit and determination.  It is the example of these explorers’ methods — pragmatic, simple, and, quite literally, down to earth — that can instruct and guide us in our life and business choices.

Our decisions may not be as world-shaking and dramatic, but using these stories as inspiration, there is much that can be learned from considering their situations and the decisions they made—lessons that can positively influence how we lead our lives today.

* * *

The chapter continues…

Have these excerpts intrigued you? Purchase your copy over on Amazon

Available on all Amazon sites worldwide: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, UK, USA. Audiobook is available from Audible and iTunes.