A history of the explorers and exploiters of the land and people of the Bering Sea from 1697 to the present. Hunt (Univ. of Alaska) is the official Bicentennial historian of that state, a mantle which does not impede his writing. Hunt's sweep is impressive and the book becomes more engrossing as it develops. Conquest and exploration began with Russian fur traders invading Kamchatka and northeastern Siberia. The Russians despised the indigenous peoples for their hygiene (really not much worse than a Cossack's), boorishness, and superstitions (""rather than fearing their god, they curse him for all their misfortunes""). Russia was preoccupied with the hope of discovering an Arctic passage across America--from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Thus did Vitus Bering, a Dane in the Russian navy, find the Bering Strait, cross an unknown sea, and chart new islands, though he failed to locate the American mainland when he was just off its befogged coast. The first scientists' reports led the way for entrepreneurs, who mistreated the natives and brought about the virtual extinction of the otters. As Hunt's canvas broadens, the commercialization of the North becomes a centuries-long demonization of a continent, right into the current oil boom. A depressingly clear-eyed overview.