A rich, multilayered narrative of solitary travel through a vast and chilly landscape. Raban (Bad Land, 1996; Hunting Mister Heartbreak, 1991; etc.), a Londoner resident in Seattle, is one of the English-speaking world’s great travelers and travel writers. Here he crafts a wonderfully literate account, full of thoughtful observation and self-deprecating humor, of a sailing trip up the Inside Passage from the Puget Sound to the Alaska Panhandle. He is not, he admits, a great mariner——I am afraid of the sea . . . I—m not a natural sailor, but a timid, weedy, cerebral type, never more out of my element than when I—m at sea——and the boat he bought for his voyage was chosen less for its sturdiness than for its built-in bookcases, which could house a fine library. Raban’s journey is indeed bookish, full of observations culled from his readings. It’s also set in parallel with other voyages, foremost among them that of the English sailor and explorer George Vancouver two centuries before. Along the way, Raban visits Native American villages, where he meets a Tsimshian man who presses his children to learn Japanese, Spanish, and computer science so that the Tsimshian people can take a place in the coming millennium; passengers on the ever-present cruise ships that ply the waters of the Inside Passage, the butts of countless Alaskan jokes and even undisguised scorn; and down-on-their-luck workers lured to the North by the promise of high wages but who never managed to punch the right ticket. For all the people Raban meets along his journey, however, his is a fundamentally lonely narrative, marked by sorrowful passages on the concurrent dissolution of his marriage and on the decline of the literary culture he so ably represents. Impeccably written and told, this will be irresistible to Raban’s many admirers, as well as those who value a good story.