Generation-spanning tales of the North Pacific from a Pulitzer-winning historian who's also a gifted storyteller. Given the breadth of the claim he's staked on a vast area that extends along a coastal arc from Baja California to China, it's no wonder that McDougall (...The Heavens and the Earth, 1985) chose a Michener-like format for his absorbing if episodic saga. It's the author's elegantly effective conceit that the favorite consort of Hawaii's King Kamehameha has summoned him and others to pass judgment on regional events over a span of nearly four centuries. Among the heavenly guests are Hiresi Saito (Japan's ambassador to the US during the 1930's), Junipero Serra (the Spanish monk whose missions opened Alta California to white settlement), William Henry Seward (Lincoln's secretary of state), and Count Sergey Witte (Tsar Nicholas II's prime minister). With more than a dozen breaks for spirited colloquies with his phantom collaborators, McDougall offers short-take accounts of historical milestones ranging in time from the opening of new sea lanes during the late 16th century through the 1950 outbreak of hostilities between North and South Korea. Covered along the way are oceangoing voyages of discovery (by Captain Cook et al.); development of the fur trade; gold rushes; earthquakes (in Tokyo as well as San Francisco); the impact of transport technologies (steamships, railroads, aircraft); the US purchase of Alaska; imperial Japan's conflicts with Russia; WW II; and more. While offbeat, the author's framework allows him to focus on questions he deems most consequential and to examine them from several standpoints. The discontinuous chronicle addresses substantive issues throughout, concluding, among other matters, that over the years demographic forces have proved far stronger than governmental imperatives. Perceptive, coherent perspectives--mounted in a flashy and accessible text--on a once-remote domain that's a world unto itself. (Thirty-two pages of maps and photos--not seen).