Synopses & Reviews
When David Roberts came across a reference to four Russian sailors who had survived for six years on a barren Arctic island, he was incredulous. An expert on the literature of adventure, Roberts had never heard the story and doubted its veracity. His quest to find the true story turned into a near-obsession that culminated with his own journey to the same desolate island. In Four Against the Arctic
Roberts shares the remarkable story that he discovered, perhaps the most amazing survival tale ever recorded.
In 1743 a Russian ship bound for Arctic walrus-hunting grounds was blown off course and trapped in ice off the coast of Svalbard (Spitzbergen). Four sailors went ashore with only two days' supplies to look for an abandoned hut they knew about on the island. They found it and returned to tell their shipmates the good news, only to find that their ship had vanished, apparently crushed and sunk by the ice.
The men survived more than six years until another ship blown off course rescued them. During that time they made a bow and arrows from driftwood (Svalbard has no trees) and killed nine polar bears in self-defense. They survived largely on reindeer meat, killing 250 of the animals during their ordeal.
Fascinated as he was by this remarkable story, Roberts wondered how it had dwindled into obscurity. For two years he researched the tale in libraries and archives in the United States, France, and Russia. In Russia he traveled to the sailors' hometown, where he met the last survivors of their families, who knew the story from an oral tradition passed down for more than 250 years. Finally, with three companions he organized an expedition to the barren island of Edgeøya in southeast Svalbard, where he spent three weeks looking for remnants of the sailors' lost hut and walking the shores while pondering the men's astonishing survival.
Four Against the Arctic is a riveting book about man versus nature and a delightfully engaging journey deep into an obsession with historical rediscovery. But it is more even than that: It is a meditation on the genius of survival against impossible odds that makes a story so inspirational that it still fires the imagination centuries later.
Author of Last Breath: the Limits of Adventure
Four Against the Arctic is a fascinating inquiry by one of the world's best exploration writers into an incredible feat of survival. Using Sherlock Holmesian logical rigor and a mountaineer's wilderness savvy, David Roberts transports us on an engrossing and obsessive high-Arctic quest to unravel the mystery of the four shipwrecked Pomori sailors.
Author of Running the Amazon
In Four Against the Arctic David Roberts demonstrates yet again why he's a dean of modern adventure writing. Armed only with the vaguest of clues, he penetrates one of the coldest and most inhuman places on Earth to bring back a story of tremendous warmth and humanity. In giving life to the legend of four men shipwrecked in the Arctic hundreds of years ago, Roberts doesn't simply tell a great yarn: He shows us what it means to be truly alive.
Author of Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters and The Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail
Four Against the Arctic is a completely absorbing and fascinating detective story about one of the most astonishing feats of survival in history. David Roberts invokes with vivid and poignant clarity the terrible ordeal of the marooned men and their tenacious and ingenious fight for survival. This is a wonderful book of both intellectual and real-life adventure.
Author of Lost in the Arctic: Explorations on the Edge and Last Places: A Journey in the North
A compulsively readable, indeed gripping book -- strewn with shipwrecks, strange artifacts, seemingly unsolvable historical mysteries, and unfriendly wildlife. It's also an ode to the human ability to survive the most harrowing of circumstances. In the end, David Roberts provides a vision of the Arctic that even at its most desolate has a sirenlike allure.
Author of The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk and Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic
Just when I thought all the great polar stories had been told, here comes Four Against the Arctic. David Roberts does a phenomenal job of piecing together this elusive and remarkable piece of history....By combining the compelling account of a little-known tale of survival with his own riveting modern-day quest to uncover the story, Roberts turns Four Against the Arctic into a gripping suspense thriller.
"Roberts . . . tells the story . . . with heart-stopping, mountain-savvy brio." --Men's Journal
About the Author
is the author of fifteen previous books on topics ranging from mountain climbing to adventure to Native Americans and the American West. He has written for numerous publications, including National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, Smithsonian, The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly,
and others. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.