Alaska: where the whites live out their dreams or go bonkers, and the Natives sport attachÃ‰ cases or swig straight from the bottle. McGinniss (The Selling of the President, Heroes) set out in late November, when the people who rode the ferry from Seattle "were going to Alaska for a reason." Starting with his cabin-mate, he learns their reasons. "The high state official" found himself in Fairbanks in 1949, after a tearing drunk, with only $1.70 in his pocket: "There still was an American frontier, and he had happened to stumble across it." To him, the frontier vanished with the pipeline. And McGinniss' old friend, who left a Massachusetts newspaper job in 1967 "in search of freedom and adventure," is now Atlantic Richfield's resident director of public relations. But the passing of the "real Alaska" hasn't yet closed the door to freedom or opportunity: in shabby, dreary Bethel, a young Eskimo woman and her three San Francisco hippie friends quickly became the town's librarian, museum curator, disk jockey, press photographer: the cultural powers-that-be. "If you've got any talent at all," says one, "you can use it to an unlimited extent." Still, they too are worried, McGinniss finds, by the pace of development. He makes other sorties: to Barrow, where the Eskimos, newly enriched by the Native Claims Act, send their basketball team to Hawaii to compete (along with "a dozen cheerleaders and thirty or forty students to do the cheering") and the white superintendent of schools doesn't dare rebuke them; to a Russian Orthodox Christmas festival--a week-long orgy of candy-eating--in a squalid Eskimo village; and to more conventional Alaska sites--the oilfields, a cabin back of beyond, a Senate hearing on preservation of the wilderness. In a sense his unstructured, non-sequential narrative is like a quick-cut trailer for a film that never gets underway; but if we're denied commanding thoughts, we're also spared pat generalizations. Instead: "The way you could tell a real Alaskan," one of his contacts comments, "was by how many marriages he had survived." And at the close, when McGinniss has a double-barreled "wilderness adventure"--he's threatened by grizzlies and comes upon a hidden, Shangri-La valley--there's reason to be grateful for the looseness, the come-what-mayness of the rest of the book. The raw, tacky, raucous human scene, and the isolation and cold, are subject enough. Engrossing reading and an addition to the basic Alaska shelf.