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Captain-Commander Vitus Bering Was BAD!!!
on October 16, 2002
'Journal of a Voyage With Bering 1741-1742' is very impressive because it is an as-close-to and an as-smooth-as possible translation of Steller's original journal of his 'epic' journey with Captain-Commander Vitus Bering from the Kamchtaka peninsula to the Aleutians, Alaska, and their intense voyage back through a very hazardous winter (ultimately the vessel was shipwrecked on Bering Island, where the Captain met his untimely fate...). In reading this book you can sense just how ominous that region was for first-time explorers (and still is!), and the fear engendered by such an awesome unknown region is evident in many of the crewmen's comments (and ends...). Steller himself is quite the opposite- very steadfast in the journey, and very focused on his work- what the expedition worked hard for ten years to prepare for- to study the area and peoples and flora and fauna etc. beyond the 60th parallel NE of Russia.
I gave this account 4 stars instead of 5 because the introduction- while very scholarly and interesting- might be too pedantic at times. One buys this book to first and foremost read Steller's account of the voyage - not to read about all the minutae details of the man's various capacities prior to the expedition. Stating he was a masterful botanist, biologist, marine biologist, medic, etc. might have been enough...
The other problem I have with this book is Steller himself, who more often than not holds gripes against his crew and the Captain- and does not restrain himself from making this known in his writing. The problem is, is that often I feel the Captain's wariness is justified, while Steller would rather just go off and study plants and the indigenes, irrespective (oblivious?) of the dangers of the region and the timeframe before the onset of winter. The point is, for anyone who has navigated by ship the Aleutian waters even in our modern era - those waters are some of the most, if not THEE most dangerous waters in the world- and Steller, while at times making good and prudent navigational decisions (which, by the way, were often ignored by Captain Bering), at other times just wanted to go around and collect plants and artifacts when the rest of the crew and the Captain rightly wanted to lift anchor- and often waited just for Steller to return to the ship for this very purpose. Steller just put the entire crew in undue danger on more than one occasion.
Overall, though, this is a fascinating account of the very earliest Aleutians Islands voyage by 'Europeans.' Read and judge for yourself who was making the best calls. Sometimes it was Steller- but at other times, the Captain's prudence was very justified.