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.
“The story of [an] epic undertaking…It should draw new readers to a neglected chapter in maritime history. Bering’s voyage shows the lengths to which humans are driven by their curiosity, and demonstrates the environmental consequences of our greed.”
"Island of the Blue Foxes is a rip-roaring tale of adventures, hardship, sacrifice, human hubris and--dare I say--madness...set in inhospitable landscapes and told with breezy energy. Wonderful."
"A worthwhile read and perhaps one of [Bown's] best. In sharing what is a remarkable story of Arctic exploration, Bown has added a welcome addition to what is already a rich catalogue of books about the Arctic and maritime exploration."
"[A] little-known, white-knuckle tale of ambition, ingenuity and the raw fight for survival. Bown has a stellar track record of chronicling the larger-than-life tales of explorers...An amazing story, both in its intimate details of day-to-day adventure and survival and its large-scale political and scientific implications."
“[Bown] has weaved a story which details the highs and lows of one of the greatest expeditions in world history and one which has been largely forgotten by mainstream humanity. Consequently, this book is an opportunity for all to learn about Bering and his contributions to the geographic and scientific knowledge gained as a result of his efforts.”
"Stephen Bown, does a masterful job of telling the story . . . The Island of the Blue Foxes is recommended for history-buffs, especially those interested in Tsarist Russia and the age of exploration and scientific discovery, and any who like action-packed historical nonfiction."
"A gripping account of 'the most extensive scientific expedition in history,' whose impressive results were certainly matched by its duration and miseries. A rapidly paced story of adventure 'to be appreciated as a reminder of the power of nature and of the struggle and triumph over disaster...and of the powerful urge to persevere and return home.'"