A panoramic history of Alaska, encyclopedic but as handy as a guidebook, from western historian Borneman.
This is the work of a man smitten by Alaska, its sheer chronological, geological, and geographical scale, the ever-changing newness of it all—and the ever-competing arguments over the nature and use of the land. What biases he carries, Borneman keeps in check: he is pushing no agenda here but instead projecting a wish for an understanding of the evolution of Alaska from all the perspectives and forces involved. This means he tries to provide a sweep of background material before elucidating a topic, be it Alaskan Native land vis-à-vis timber and fishing rights; the influence of missionaries; the purpose of the early US Army surveys; or the mountaineering exploits of the Duke of Abruzzi, Terry Moore, and Brad Washburn. He does, however, hold a strong opinion about the abysmal “relocation” of the Aleuts during WWII, when their towns were razed and the military treated them with the same “decided tone of racism that was being applied to Americans of Japanese ancestry.” Still, Borneman is comfortable with the political frays that have always been on the Alaskan agenda, from the move toward statehood and the jousting between the Russians and the advocates of the Monroe Doctrine, on through John Muir and Gifford Pinchot and the Forest Service’s notion of mixed use, to the future of drilling for oil Wildlife Reserve. He’s particularly happy when he gets his teeth into a good tale, and Alaska is full of them: the splendid ones, like the Iditarod and the salmon runs and the bush pilots; the unavoidable, such as the earthquake of 1964; and the plain bad, like the Exxon Valdez.
A sensitive background to the 49th state, capably finessing conflicts, then shifting gears to take the narrative off on a pleasing storytelling spin. (maps)