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Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World
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Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  52 reviews
While reading Valerian Albanov's In the Land of White Death, David Roberts came across the mention of an old legend of four shipwrecked Russian sailors who had managed to survive six years stranded on a barren island in the high Arctic. Incredulous, Roberts -- an expert on exploration literature who had never heard of this account -- was determined to learn the truth behin ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 2nd 2005 by Simon Schuster (first published November 1st 2003)
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3.52  · 
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 ·  256 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Some reviewers found this book disappointing because it's more about about Roberts' attempt to figure out the story of the shipwrecked Russians than it is about the survival story itself. I understand that, but as a librarian, I don't mind reading tales of research at libraries at Harvard and in Russia. And I liked the way Roberts and his friends wrestle with the book that is the main historical record for the story, getting frustrated with the book, and re-reading it and re-thinking it.

Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
If you were to go by the title and the summary on the back of the book, you would believe that you were getting this great long story about the four people who lived on an Arctic island for six years. Now that would have been a great book!

But what we get instead is the tale of Roberts' search for information about that tale of survival, which is something completely different. We hear about his exhausting search through libraries here and in Russia in minute detail. We get the run-down of every
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is not about "four against the arctic". It is about the authors mostly failed attempt to gather information on the 4 Pomori hunters that lived 6 years in the arctic after being stranded on a remote island. A title and description of a book couldn't be more misleading. Not what I wanted. If you're looking for arctic exploration/survival then look elsewhere. Just for the record, the book they mention In the Land of White Death is a great book. That mentioning is what tricked me into buyi ...more
Nov 25, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Too long for its essence. The writer spent way too much time describing himself and his research than the "four against the arctic". The audio book is more than 10 hours long. Fortunately it is an audio book, so the time was not totally wasted, I still got my dishes washed.
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book talks about four Russians of Pomori decent and their marooning on an island off of the coast of Svalbard(very Northern Europe). The group only had two days worth of supplies, but three of them managed to live for more than six years, before their eventual rescue in 1749. The Svalbard area is an extremely harsh, arctic area, and most people are lucky to survive one winter, much less six consecutive ones. Most of this book is focused on the author's research and his adventure to the isla ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story about fascination. Author David Roberts is fascinated to the point of obsession with the tale he hears of four Russians shipwrecked in the high northern latitudes in the mid-1700s. He is more than merely obsessed. He wants to locate the site of the stranded Russian's camp, and retell the story to a world who has never heard about it. And so he does. This is scholarly and yet adventurous storytelling. He was tireless in his research, in order to get the story right.
Prima Seadiva
Audiobook. Reader okay. 2.5 stars
Like other reviews mention, I had a different impression of what the book (audiobooks in particular do not afford prior browsing) would cover only to find it was more about the author, his research in regard to the shipwreck survivors and his travels. It was interesting enough but a bit wordy at times. Listening to it before sleep I drifted off more than once and had to retrace my steps.
Christy Keeler
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy reading books by Roberts. He writes beautifully and chooses fascinating topics—survival under extreme conditions. This book is a bit different than his others. The topic is not the survival of the four 17th century Russians stranded in the Arctic for six years, but the research process Roberts underwent to learn their story. It's a bit more like "Tuva or Bust!" in that regard. Nonetheless, Roberts turns what could be a dry topic into a joy to read.
Jeannell Ingram
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book to learn the incredible story about the Pomori men who were stranded in the Arctic for 6 years. It was disappointing to wade through all of the author's trials in learning about the story, yet not quite finding out the full story of the men. None the less, I read all of it and enjoyed learning the tidbits that were verified, or at least almost verified.
Bull Durham
Would have worked better as a long-form magazine article ... most of the book is about Roberts's struggle, not in the Arctic but in libraries around the world researching his book. To top it off, I felt Roberts deceived the reader by all along implying that the 'big story' was there waiting to be delivered when he knew damn well it wasn't.
Shannon Babb
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
It took a bit for me to get into this particular book. It is not your standard arctic survival story, and I would argue that the four sailors who are described in the title are minor characters in this book. Instead, this is a story of obsession. Of a group of people and there journey trying to piece together the history of Halfmoon Island.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
More a memoir of a writer's dogged search for the story than the actual story of four Russians stranded in on arctic island for over six years. Still an interesting and (probably) unforgettable read from my SOUB.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This 'book' could have been boiled down to a 10 page pamphlet. The vast majority of the tome was about the author and his research skills. Great detail went into who he met, who he hired, where he went and how he got there while trying to nail down the details of this incredible tale of survival.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incredible story of survival, I couldn't put it down.
Mar 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Not a story but a monologue
Oct 12, 2016 rated it liked it
although I enjoyed this book , it was a slow read in the middle. Their challenge in using the Russian system and archives was an interesting insight. Glad I finally picked it back up and finished it.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Yet another one of the books in a genre I love to pour through- Arctic/Antarctic survival!
Nothing comes close to this one, a true story of a 1743 Russian ship whose crew was headed North to hunt walrus. A storm blew their craft off course and left it trapped in the ice off Spitzbergen. The four eventual survivors went ashore with just two day's worth of supplies, searching for a hut they had some knowledge of that might have existed there. On the small God forsaken island they lived for the nex
Feb 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who can stand some pompous academia
Pretty good chronicle of the author's efforts to follow the story of the four men who survived six years in godforsaken conditions. Definitely read this book with a blanket nearby: it never gets warm. The writing is okay if you can wade through the pompous academic style. Using larger English words is fine, but overuse of some phrases and condescendingly using words from other languages smacks of someone needing to prove their academic background, rather than just writing a coherent story. Inste ...more
Pete daPixie
Not a Cherry-Garrard standard travelogue this, but a modern day investigative account by author David Roberts. The book pursues the tale of Russian sailors back in the eighteenth century who become marooned in the Svalbard archipelago and survive for six years before eventual rescue.
Did this really happen? Was it possible to survive, reverting back to the frozen stone age, at latitudes high into the arctic circle?
'Shipwrecked on the top of the World-Four against the Arctic' recounts Roberts's de
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Four Against the Arctic tells the incredibly story of 4 Russian walrus hunters that became stranded on a desolate island near Greenland, they survived for 6 years, living off reindeer & scurvy grass, killing 10 polar bears with homemade lances until their rescue by a passing ship. Robert's becomes fascinated when he comes across the story and is determined to find the truth, to find more of the story. This book is more about his quest to verify the story and find more details as there are al ...more
Sue Myers
Came across this book while browsing the new nonfiction section of the public library. It is the account of the author's quest to discover artifacts, historical truth and the site of a survival of 6 years of four Pomori (Russian) hunters on one of the Arctic islands near Spitzbergen beginning in 1743! Their Russian walrus hunting boat was blown off course and trapped in the Arctic ice. Four sailors with 2 days worth of food lwent ashore to look for a hut that they knew about.They located the hut ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is about half a retelling of four Pomori sailors marooned in a distant corner of the Arctic (Svalbard), and half about finding out about it. As there are not the diaries kept by later Arctic expeditions, the author's main source is a near-contemporary book written by an academic. The author of this book is not impressed with that author (Le Roy), and quite a bit of the book is giving over to mocking him (apparently with reason).

The author's international research, including trying to get he
Nov 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I gave this 3 stars, but I was close to giving it 4.
The story of the four Russian sailors, who survived for more than six years on a island in the Svalbard archipelago with almost no supplies, is very compelling. Sadly, the author discovered through painstaking research that many of the details of their experience have been lost to history. Since the author was unable to write a whole book about their experience, he chose instead to right about his hunt for information as well as his two week tr
Dec 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
This book was a bait and switch. Look at that cover! The title and the back cover get you all ready for an exciting adventure tale in the arctic. This book? This book is really about the author David Roberts, who has a HUGE ego, and his researching of an event that happened several hundred years ago to Russians in the arctic. But he doesn't speak Russian. He doesn't understand Russian culture and he can't get to Russia when he needs to because of his heavy academic schedule. So instead, we get t ...more
R.J. Heller
I have read a number of books by David Roberts. This book had the allure of possibly re-living what four Russian sailors endured for six years on a desolate island home in the arctic, awaiting their subsequent rescue. What we get, are very small minute glimpses of their experience, while tagging a long with the author is his search for more information, and possible artifacts as well as locating the exact spot and place they "lived this ordeal". It is an interesting glimpse inside the research a ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Long winded academics
I thought this was going to be an exciting adventure story about four Russian sailors in the 1700's who were marooned on a remote arctic island. That would have been a great story. Instead, it is a very boring story about the author researching the story about the sailors. The only account he finds of this was written by a professor in the 1700's and apparently left out all the most interesting details and went off on a lot of wild tangents about other topics (kind of like this book...) He spend ...more
Nov 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Four Against the Arctic / David Roberts. This book was fascinating and convoluted. A tale of research in libraries, museums, and onsite in the Arctic to learn how three Russian sailors survived six years in the 1700s on a desolate island with very, very few resources, Four Against the Arctic is engrossing because of the author’s doggedness and skillful writing. There is, certainly, a lot of historical digression, cogitation and countless sources to distract and confuse, but interest is held by t ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010, february
Well-written book about four Russian sailors forced to overwinter in one of the most remote islands in the Arctic -- for six years. The story of the sailors themselves is fascinating, although not enough is known about their tale to fill out a book, so "Four against the Arctic" becomes as much about Russian red tape, the glory of research libraries, and travels to Svalbard and far northern Russia as about the overwintering. Roberts is an excellent writer, though, and keeps you with him the whole ...more
Nov 19, 2009 rated it liked it
I enjoy survival stories, and this book details an extremely little know late 18th century survival epic of 4 Pomori sailors stranded on a small island above the arctic cirlce for 6 YEARS! Unfortunately, only about 1/4 of the book actually details the survival story, the rest describes the author's quest to uncover the location and facts surrounding the survival story. Still, there are a lot of little nuggets about research, Pomori and Arctic conditions that make this book an interesting read.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.
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David Roberts is the award-winning author of twenty-nine books about mountaineering, exploration, and anthropology. His most recent publication, Alone on the Wall, was written with world-class rock climber Alex Honnold, whose historic feats were featured in the film Free Sol