Latching onto a Bestseller: David Roberts and in the Land of White Death

Article excerpt

Looking for the next Perfect Storm? Thanks to a discovery made by David Roberts, a seasoned mountaineer and an old friend of Into Thin Air's Jon Krakauer, it just might be blowing in on October 20th. That's when Modern Library is releasing In the Land of White Death, a tale of survival in the Siberian Arctic. Hailed as one of the greatest true adventure stories and only now available in English, it was written more than eighty years ago by Valerian Albanov--one of two survivors of the voyage of the Santa Anna, a Russian ship that in 1912 left the northern port of present-day Murmansk only to become icebound during the brutal Arctic winter.

Roberts first heard about In the Land of White Death while on a trip to France a few years ago, and, intrigued, he made a visit to Harvard's Widener Library upon returning home to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"I found a copy in French," the fifty-seven-year-old says. "And this 1928 copy had never once been checked out. So I read it in French and was just spellbound and said, `My God, this is a true masterpiece.'" Roberts eventually suggested that White Death be included in Modern Library's new Exploration series, a series edited by his climbing buddy (and former English student) Krakauer.

"Jon had this amazing sleepless night, where he just couldn't get the story out of his head. And in the middle of the night, he got up and e-mailed [his editor] and said, `Forget putting this in the series; we should publish this like a bestseller because it is a bestseller.' This is the kind of book, if the author was alive, he'd get a three-hundred-thousand-dollar advance. …