NORTHWEST EPIC by Heath Twichell


The Building of the Alaska Highway
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 Plodding, statistics-clogged account of the construction of the Alcan Highway, hacked out of the Canadian/Alaskan wilderness by the US military and private contractors during the early, anxiety- filled days of WW II. Twichell is a former West Point history teacher whose father was an Army officer involved with the project. Begun immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Alcan Highway, Twichell explains, was intended to provide a relatively safe supply line to the then-Territory of Alaska. Four routes were proposed, each supported by local boosters eager to share in the promised economic bonanza. White and black regiments of the US Army Engineers, mostly ill-trained and ill-equipped, were dispatched to the area. Twichell does a fine job of capturing the tensions and rivalries that accompanied the use of these rigorously segregated troops. But when he turns to an almost mile-by-mile, bulldozer-by-bulldozer, mountain-by-mountain account of their progress, his narrative pace falters, only quickening when he incorporates anecdotes into his story--tales of the grizzled guides, the seat-of-their-pants bush pilots, or the black enlisted men who helped build the highway. Also of interest are Twichell's reports on the backbiting common among top brass; a brief discussion of the Senate investigating committee--headed by future President Truman--that blew the whistle on Army excesses; and a look at the delivery of Lend-Lease planes to Russia over the arctic route. Such bright spots, however, are infrequent as the author devotes page after page to catalogues of distances covered, the number of automotive breakdowns, troop allotments, and other ledger-sheet matters. WW II-era historians may benefit from the welter of facts and figures; most readers, though, will find Twichell's account as tedious as a Yukon winter. (Illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-07754-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992