This book, written by George Kennan, is an awesome account of Kennan's exploration through the Siberian wilderness. Kennan and a small group of explorers, funded by the Russo-American Telegraph Company, set out to do the seemingly impossible - telegraphically connect the United States and Europe via land lines running through the Bering Straits and Siberia. Kennan relates the experience with humor, wit, intelligence and insight. It's a fascinating journey through difficult struggles that sheds some light on how beneficial challenging circumstances can be and what we can learn from exploring new territory - metaphorically and literally.
The beginning of the book details the boat ride that Kennan and the explorers took from San Francisco to Siberia. They were journeying through overcast skies with very limited visibility, essentially having no idea where they were, for over a month until they finally saw land. Once on land, they traveled through the Siberian wilderness in sub-zero temperatures, sometimes 60 degrees below zero. They camped out and crossed rivers. They encountered uncivilized people, far removed from any society. They stayed with them at times and learned about their culture and way of life.
Having read the book around the holidays, one of my favorite parts was when Kennan was describing a group of settled inhabitants in Anadyrsk that they happened to be around during the holidays.
"Throughout the holidays the whole population did nothing but pay visits, give tea parties, and amuse themselves with dancing, sleigh-riding, and playing ball. Every evening between Christmas and New Year, bands of masqueraders dressed in fantastic costumes went around with music to all the houses in the village and treated the inmates to songs and dances. The inhabitants of these little Russian settlements in Northeastern Siberia are the most careless, warm-hearted, hospitable people in the world, and their social life, rude as it is, partakes of all these characteristics. There is no ceremony or affectation, no putting on of style by any particular class. All mingle unreservedly together and treat each other with the most affectionate cordiality, the men often kissing one another when they meet and part, as if they were brothers. Their isolation from all the rest of the world seems to have bound them together with ties of mutual sympathy and dependence, and banished all feelings of envy, jealousy, and petty selfishness."