The Great Northern Expedition was the most ambitious and well-financed scientific expedition in history. Lasting nearly ten years and spanning three continents, its geographical, cartographical and natural history accomplishments are on par with James Cook's famous voyages, the scientific circumnavigations of Alessandro Malaspina and Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and Lewis and Clark's cross-continental trek.
Conceived by Peter the Great in the 1730s and led by Danish mariner Vitus Bering, the enterprise involved a cavalcade of nearly three thousand scientists, secretaries, interpreters, artists, surveyors, naval officers, mariners, soldiers and labourers, all of whom had to be brought across five thousand miles of roadless forests, swamps and tundra, along with tools, supplies, libraries and scientific implements--as well as the clavichord belonging to Bering's wife, Anna. Scientific objectives included investigating flora, fauna and minerals as well as outlandish rumours about the Siberian peoples. After the expedition reached the eastern coast of Asia, Bering oversaw the construction of two ships, the St. Peter and St. Paul, and sailed for America with one hundred and fifty men, including the German naturalist and surgeon Georg Steller.
The voyage was plagued by ill fortune--a supply ship failed to arrive, officers quarrelled and the ships were separated in a storm. While St. Paul reached Alaska and reported back to Russia, Bering's ship, St. Peter, was wrecked on a desolate island in the Aleutian Chain inhabited by feral foxes. Island of the Blue Foxes is an incredible true-life adventure story, a story of personal and cultural animosities, unimaginable Gothic horrors and ingenuity in the face of adversity.