Russ's Reviews > Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World

Four Against the Arctic by David  Roberts
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's review
Jun 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, academic, historical, inspirational, nonfiction, travel, adventure
Read from May 25 to June 08, 2010 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** From the moment I read the back blurb, I knew I had to read this book. It didn't disappoint, although it was a little different than what I thought it would be like.

David Roberts, author and adventurer, found out about the story of four Russian sailors who were forced to survive in the Svalbard islands in the Arctic after their hunting ship sank. Those four sailors had made a trek to find a previously-known structure on the island they found themselves upon, only to return and find their boat simply gone. For a little over half a decade, these four men had their limits tested as they hunted, tried to stay warm, and fought off the constant threat of polar bears.

Roberts gives us plenty of information about the four sailors' incredible story, but this book isn't about that, exactly. Rather, it is about Roberts' quest to find the truth about the situation. Whose truth? That's one of the more important questions the book raises.

Roberts' primary source is an account by a Frenchman named Le Roy, who interviewed the sailors several months after their return from their exile. Le Roy reports the incredible details of the adventure, but Roberts constantly questions the accuracy of his findings. Did Le Roy understand everything the sailors were telling him? Did he really accurately report what he had heard? Roberts tries to find other sources to dig deeper into the story and find out what really might have happened.

Finally, Roberts, two of his buddies (who are more than qualified to join such a journey) along with a Swedish/Norwegian guide trek all the way to Svalbard to find out what that harsh landscape can tell them about the Russian story. Even in the warmest month in the Arctic, the conditions are rugged and even dangerous. One slip-up could have made the difference between survival and near-death. All the while, David and his fellow travelers attempt to find the whereabouts of the hut the Russian sailors lived in.

This last part of the book was the most interesting and incredible for me. Although not as compelling and simply awe-inspiring as the story that prompted it, the trip to Svalbard by Roberts and colleagues forms an adventure tale all its own. Roberts' firsthand account of the "godforsaken" Arctic islands lets the reader get closer to the true reality of life in such a place than any centuries-old manuscript or tale.

In his own way, Roberts adds to the story by journeying to perhaps the very same place and facing a few of the same conditions and dangers. He may or may not have found the famous survival hut, but at the very least he was there, just the same as the Russian hunters centuries before. Just think about this: With the exception of a man-made structure or two, various scattered hunting traps and the garbage left behind and washed ashore over the years, the islands of Edgeøya and Half-Moon Island remain much the same as they did when the Russians lost their way.

I really liked this book. I learned a new story and I got to imagine what it might be like to be on an island in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fog, ice and hungry polar bears.

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Reading Progress

06/08/2010 page 288
90.0% "Done!"

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