Alaska is a corruption of an Aleut word meaning ""the shore where the sea breaks its back."" The present story about the discovery of Alaska by the Dane Vitus Bering (in a Russian ship) during the middle eighteenth century is a truly stirring work. Ford handles the usual man-against-the-elements scenes dexterously and with a fine ear. But it is his constant quotation from the ship's doctor's monograph and diaries that lends the book its solid keel of eloquence. The doctor was Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German, whose writings as a naturalist are acknowledged classics. Ford tries to anchor his story to the near extinction of the sea otter and its present revivification as a species. But Steller steals the book at every comma, until he is vastly more moving a figure than Bering (after whom the Bering Straits are named, and more tragic. Amazingly, the voyage from Russia was ten years in the preparation and Steller had a mere ten hours in Alaska. Yet his descriptions of Eskimos and flora and fauna are piercingly accurate and empathetic. The crew was hit by scurvy and shipwrecked on an island for nearly a year. Meanwhile, Steller went right on writing amid death and blizzards. And he could write! His dissection of an 8000 pound sea-cow, organ by organ, proceeds with dedicated fascination.... The whole book is a labor of love and discovery.