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Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) Hardcover – November 7, 2017
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"A gripping account of 'the most extensive scientific expedition in history,' whose impressive results were certainly matched by its duration and miseries. A rapidly paced story of adventure 'to be appreciated as a reminder of the power of nature and of the struggle and triumph over disaster...and of the powerful urge to persevere and return home.'"
"[An] excellent work of historical reconstruction that will enamor fans of the Age of Exploration."―Booklist
"Island of the Blue Foxes is a rip-roaring tale of adventures, hardship, sacrifice, human hubris and--dare I say--madness...set in inhospitable landscapes and told with breezy energy. Wonderful."―Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt's New World
"One of the most significant and harrowing expeditions in the annals of European and American exploration, the Bering voyages remain largely unknown to modern readers. Inspired by the European Enlightenment, Peter the Great and his successor Empress Anna sent Danish navigator Vitus Bering 5,000 miles eastward across Siberia, then another 3,000 miles across the Pacific to the unknown coasts of North America, decades before Captain Cook's well-known voyages. Bering left his name on a sea and a strait, and his naturalist Steller identified dozens of unknown plants and animals in the New World, but perhaps the most inspiring legacy is the remarkable forbearance and human ingenuity employed by the expedition's survivors in the face of scurvy, starvation, and shipwreck. A gifted chronicler of Northern exploration, Stephen Bown tells this incredible tale with grace, authority, and a deep grasp of its significance."
―Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire
"Bown's readable history should elevate Bering into the top tier of explorers. For fans of adventure, exploration, and discovery."―Library Journal
"[A] little-known, white-knuckle tale of ambition, ingenuity and the raw fight for survival. Bown has a stellar track record of chronicling the larger-than-life tales of explorers...An amazing story, both in its intimate details of day-to-day adventure and survival and its large-scale political and scientific implications."―Calgary Herald
"Brings North American readers into a part of history seldom written about anywhere."―CBC News
"A worthwhile read and perhaps one of [Bown's] best. In sharing what is a remarkable story of Arctic exploration, Bown has added a welcome addition to what is already a rich catalogue of books about the Arctic and maritime exploration."―Rocky Mountain Outlook
"[Bown] has weaved a story which details the highs and lows of one of the greatest expeditions in world history and one which has been largely forgotten by mainstream humanity. Consequently, this book is an opportunity for all to learn about Bering and his contributions to the geographic and scientific knowledge gained as a result of his efforts."―New York Journal of Books
"Well-written, fast-paced."―Portland Book Review
About the Author
Stephen R. Bown is author of The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen and White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic, which won the Williams Mills Award for the best book on the Arctic in 2016. His award-winning books, including Scurvy and Madness, Betrayal, and the Lash, have led to a reputation as "Canada's Simon Winchester."
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about this period and this area. So much goes wrong that it becomes a little depressing at times, but there is also great accomplishment and character and the book is well worth the time.
Suffice it to say that if you love historical accounts, especially those such as the journeys of Lewis and Clark, travelogues in general, or accounts of shipwreck and survival against insurmountable odds you will certainly love this book. My only complaint is that at 242 pages it was too short. The author is a fascinating writer, and I found I could not stop reading this fascinating volume.
But these voyages were not without serious difficulty. Wallace lost all his specimens on one voyage when his ship burned to the waterline. Franklin and his crew all died in the frozen arctic. Shackleton came close to the same end in the Antarctic but through heroic effort managed to save his crew.
This book describes an absolutely amazing journey that I was completely unaware of ... Vitus Bering's two land journeys across Siberia from St. Petersburg to Okhotsk on the Pacific coast of Siberia (the second with ~ 3,000 people), and then his subsequent voyage across the Pacific to the Alaskan coast of North America and back. The hardships were astonishing, with much loss of crew to scurvy and malnutrition. While Bering's name is familiarly associated with the Bering Strait, the person of interest on the sea voyage is the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. Naturalists will know this name from Steller's Jay and Steller's Sea Lion among others. (Steller's association with this Russian expedition is interesting in itself; many German intellectuals were part of Peter the Great's efforts to bring Russia into the modern age.)
I found this book to be thoroughly engaging. Both the land and sea expeditions pushed the limits of human endurance. And as a biologist, the contributions and activities of the famous Georg Steller were enlightening. The trans-Siberia journey had me running to Google Earth to locate and identify the Siberian way points mentioned. The author includes the modern name of many of the islands on the Alaskan coast and these too can be found using Google Earth. (This review is based on a pre-publication copy. There is no index and the end notes not yet numbered. I hope the final hard cover edition includes suitable maps of each stage of the two phases of this incredible journey.)
The Great Northern Expedition, first dreamed up by Peter the Great to get the Russian Empire in line with western Europe's more advanced technologies, became reality in the 1730s. At a time when North America was getting settled by English pilgrims, Russia wanted to find the northern route to North America. Sadly, much went wrong and the crew suffered immensely, but many discoveries made by the international crew helped identify new species of animals and new landforms.
The final edition has maps that my copy does not have, and these maps help the reader better see the locations of Kamchatka in relation to Siberia and Alaska. Rough waters, killer cold, hungry foxes (that alone is ominous) kept the courageous crew alert for as long as scurvy didn't slowly kill them off.
The writing is engaging. The book isn't very long and can be read in one day.