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The Russian Discovery of America

Orcutt Frost

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A joint biography of three extraordinary sisters and the tumultuous century that they helped to shape

Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681–1741) is a towering figure in the history of exploration. In the course of two expeditions that consumed most of his adult life—and eventually led to his death—he journeyed from St. Petersburg to Siberia and ultimately to the northwest coast of America. Along with the members of his expedition (thousands participated in the second expedition), Bering greatly expanded the Russian empire, pioneered the geography of the North Pacific Ocean, and laid the groundwork for Russian trade and settlement in the American West. In the first biography of Bering written in over a century, Orcutt Frost chronicles the life of this extraordinary explorer. Drawing on a wide range of new evidence—including personal letters and archaeological evidence derived from the recent discovery of Bering’s grave site—the author reconstructs Bering’s personality, his perilous voyages, and his uneasy relationship with the naturalist Georg Steller, who unobtrusively guided the stranded expedition as Bering lay dying. A riveting narrative of adventure and disaster on the high seas, this biography is also a major contribution to the history of maritime exploration.

Orcutt Frost, emeritus professor of the humanities at Alaska Pacific University, is an authority on Bering’s voyages and has written numerous books and articles on the subject.

“A biography of Bering has long been needed and no one is better suited to write it than Orcutt Frost. Based on meticulous scholarship and a lifelong knowledge of the subject, this biography will be a revelation to anyone interested in the history of exploration.”—Glyn Williams, author of Voyages of Delusion: The Quest for the Northwest Passage

“[Bering] has just been given a worthy monument. . . . A comprehensive and much-needed biography. . . . Informative, instructive, and thought-provoking. . . . A well thought-out, finely-crafted work, attractively published. It is a significant addition to the libraries of scholars, students, and those interested in the history of exploration.”—Alix O’Grady, Alaska History

“A fascinating biography of this great Danish explorer. . . . Frost has provided a thorough depiction of the 1741 voyage, drawing upon both the old reports and present knowledge. . . . Frost’s book will also be appreciated by people interested in geographic exploration or Arctic research and by those with a more general interest in history, human relations, and logistical problems.”—Jorgen Taagholt, Arctic

“A fascinating book, which endeavors to flesh out the truth about Bering’s two expeditions to the far East of Russia and off into the great unknown.”—Rob Meltzer, Boston Globe

"Frost's book is a wonderful addition to the Bering literature, incorporating the letters and archaeological discoveries. . . . Thanks to the recent discoveries by Russian and Danish historians and archaeologists, woven together and presented skilfully by Orcutt Frost, scholars now have a much-needed biography of Bering.  Frost spent seventeen years working on this book.  It was time well-spent, and the result may well encourage further research on the fascinating expeditions that Vitus Bering led for Russia."—Carol Urness, Itinerario

“Publication by Yale University Press has become a guarantee of literary merit as well as scholarly excellence. Orcutt Frost’s scholarship is irreproachable. But how does work so judicious, so scrupulous, so reticent, so resistant to sensation and artifice, contrive to be so gripping? This is the formula historians crave: a rattling read, without sacrifice of academic austerity.”—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review

Bering is a fascinating book, which endeavors to flesh out the truth about Bering’s two expeditions to the far East of Russia and off into the great unknown. . . . Frost writes so well and so carefully that the reader might find him or herself experiencing chills and pains of hunger while reading this book. The book also provides substantial history of Russian/Scandinavian history which might be unfamiliar to most Americans.”—Rob Meltzer, Metro West Daily News

"Orcutt Frost is the leading authority writing in English on the subject of Bering and his bold expeditions. . . . He’s especially good on Steller’s work onshore and the encounters with natives, which he recounts in fascinating detail."—Anthony Brandt, National Geographic Adventure

“A well-researched, readable and compelling account of a man Pacific Northwesterners ought to get more acquainted with. . . . This is a first-rate piece of history.”—Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times

“[An] admirable portrait. . . . Anyone fascinated by the energy and inventiveness of early voyagers will find rewards here.”—Duncan Spencer, The Washington Times

“This fascinating book by a leading authority, seventeen years in the making, focuses on Bering’s two missions for the Imperial Russian government. . . . By setting Bering’s missions in their wider context [Frost] illuminates Russia’s rise as a major power.”—Lindsey Hughes, Times Literary Supplement

“A highly readable, effective and useful biography of Bering, the first in over a century. … This new biography fills a large gap in the story of the evolving realisation of North Pacific geography. All interested in the nature of the saga will appreciate Frost’s contribution here, a fitting conclusion to his own evolution as biographer.” - Stephen Haycox, The Mariner’s Mirror

Finalist for the 2004 PEN American Center Literary Award in the Research Nonfiction category

Finalist for the 2004 Caroline Bancroft Western History Prize sponsored by the Denver Public Library
ISBN: 9780300209006
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
11 b/w illus. + 10 maps