FOUR AGAINST THE ARCTIC: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World

David Roberts, Author . Simon & Schuster $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2431-4

The author of Escape from Lucania uncovers an extraordinary tale, set in the mid–18th century, about four Russian hunters stranded on a desolate Arctic isle with scant resources, who survived for six years. Initially, Roberts is so preoccupied with debunking earlier histories of the shipwreck that the drama barely comes to life. He fumes at the shortcomings of other historians such as the "pomposities" and "basic mistakes" of the writer P.L. Le Roy. But these records give the author significant information as he embarks on his own Arctic journey in order to better understand his subjects. Luckily, few things can get in the way of a good story, and when Roberts manages to get out of his own way, he captures it with precise, thoughtful prose. With each discovery and every interview, he pieces together the mystery of how the four men actually survived. Whether detailing how these men fashioned clothing from animal hides, drank the warm blood of reindeer to prevent scurvy or crafted bows and arrows from "driftwood, polar bear tendons, flattened nails, and bird feathers," Roberts succeeds in creating an inspirational survival story. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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