Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land

Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land

4.5 12
by Walter R. Borneman

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The history of Alaska is filled with stories of new land and new riches — and ever present are new people with competing views over how the valuable resources should be used: Russians exploiting a fur empire; explorers checking rival advances; prospectors stampeding to the clarion call of "Gold!"; soldiers battling out a decisive chapter in world war; oil

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The history of Alaska is filled with stories of new land and new riches — and ever present are new people with competing views over how the valuable resources should be used: Russians exploiting a fur empire; explorers checking rival advances; prospectors stampeding to the clarion call of "Gold!"; soldiers battling out a decisive chapter in world war; oil wildcatters looking for a different kind of mineral wealth; and always at the core of these disputes is the question of how the land is to be used and by whom.

While some want Alaska to remain static, others are in the vanguard of change. Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land shows that there are no easy answers on either side and that Alaska will always be crossing the next frontier.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The last American frontier, Alaska packs into 615,230 square miles the American saga of explorers and hunters, followed first by miners and soldiers, then homesteaders and tourists making their way into the wilderness. Borneman, a historian and lawyer who has produced multimedia programs for National Geographic, is at his best when he writes about these heroes who battled treacherous weather and terrain. At the same time, he stages their adventures against the backdrop of military and political events. Though some newspapers derided Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, for purchasing the territory as a strategic outpost in 1867, his decision proved prescient during WWII, when Alaska proved useful in patrolling the northern Pacific, and especially during the Cold War, when it allowed us to keep watch over communist countries in Asia. Until it obtained statehood in 1959, however, Alaska remained a colonial possession where the U.S. government controlled access to natural resources on the land, in the water and under the surface. Even now, 41% of the state belongs to national reserves; and the controversies continue among conservationists, fisheries, and timber and oil companies. The chapters on Alaska's environment demonstrate the balance of textbook history and storytelling that makes this informative book so readable. On occasion, Borneman becomes mired in local history, such as the quarrel over the state capital, when he might have instead devoted these pages to the Natives, whom he leaves hovering in the background until they suddenly leap forward as activists in the 1960s. He might also have included illustrations. Mirroring the Alaskan landscape, the book's scale and blocks of unbroken text can be daunting. 10 maps. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
This detailed history of Alaska manages to maintain a balance between being scholarly enough for a research project and providing entertainment along the lines of bestselling nonfiction. Borneman sweeps the reader off on a chronological history of the forty-ninth state from prehistory and the Ice-Age land bridge through the current controversy over oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. High-quality research-as evidenced by twenty pages of notes and a long bibliography-is presented with a vigorous writing style that chronicles the tumultuous events of the 1964 earthquake, seventy-foot tsunamis, the rush for oil in the late 1960s, the Exxon Valdez disaster, logging issues, and the revival of salmon fishing as if they were all breaking news on television. Borneman, who produces multimedia programs for National Geographic, also acknowledges and accepts the inability to pin down certain information, and instead of making that a liability in his research, he turns it into part of the mystery of the state. He engages in debate over the politically correct way to refer to "Alaska Natives"-versus "Native Alaskans"-and has a section on their unique legal relationship with the United States government. For those seeking specific information on one incident or a single person, the detailed index simplifies the search, and the bibliography leads to more research. Although this book is too long for hurried students looking for research for a small report, a student faced with needing details for a major project on Alaska can not only find everything here but also will be treated to an enjoyable and adventurous read along the way. Index. Maps. Biblio. Source Notes. VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P SA/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2003, HarperCollins, 608p,
— Hillary Theyer
Library Journal
Often referred to as the Last Frontier, Alaska has captivated the imagination of many over the centuries. Western writer Borneman (A Climbing Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners) has done an excellent job of describing why this fascination exists. Separated into nine chronologically based chapters, the text explores a recurring theme in Alaska's development: conflict among disparate groups over how the land would be used for personal enrichment. Starting with the various 18th- and 19th-century European powers who sought to colonize Alaska and ending with current struggles over oil development in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, engaging chapters detail the important events and those who helped shape Alaska's history. Of note are the fascinating sections on Alaska's important contributions to the Allied victory in World War II and the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. This expansive, comprehensive history is recommended for all libraries.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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-�-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 sensitivebackground to the 49th state, capably finessing conflicts, then shifting gears to take the narrative off on a pleasing storytelling spin. (maps)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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8.98(w) x 5.20(h) x 1.12(d)

Meet the Author

Walter R. Borneman is the author of Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, and several books on the history of the western United States. He lives in Colorado.

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Chapter One

Mountains, Glaciers, and Innumerable Rivers

Rivers, creeks, and streams almost without number course through the extent of Alaska, but it is the mountain ranges that most define its landscape. Jutting southward from the main landmass, the Aleutian Range is the backbone of the narrow Alaska Peninsula. To the north, the Alaska Range sprawls more than 500 miles across the heart of the state, rising to 20,320 feet atop the icy crown of North America. The Chugach and Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains shadow the Alaska Range to the south and wrap around southcentral Alaska's turbulent rim of fire and ice. Southeast of the St. Elias Range, the Coast Mountains march down the southeast panhandle above the emerald waters of the Inside Passage. West of the Alaska Range, the Kuskokwim Mountains are mere foothills by comparison, but this range rises above the entangled streams and wetlands of the Yukon and Kuskokwim river systems. The Kuskokwim Mountains point north toward the Brooks Range, the northernmost mountain chain in the United States and the roof above Alaska's North Slope.

Aleutian Range, Alaska Range, Chugach Mountains, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, Coast Mountains, Kuskokwim Mountains, and Brooks Range; these are the seven great mountain systems that define Alaska.

The Aleutian Range dominates the sweeping arc of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands as they slice between the waters of the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. This wild, 1,600-mile tail of Alaska is a grand necklace of rugged peaks, lowland plains, and rocky beaches cast upon a restless and frequently rambunctious sea. The highpoint of the range,11,413-foot Mount Torbert, lies near its tangled juncture with the Alaska Range. Chakachamna Lake and the Chakachatna River slice through the range just south of Mount Torbert and Mount Spurr (11,070 feet) and tempt some to lump these peaks with the Alaska Range rather than the Aleutians. South of here, however, beyond Lake Clark Pass, there can be no doubt. The active volcanoes of Redoubt (10,197 feet) and Iliamna (10,016 feet) rise above the waters of Cook Inlet to the east and sparkling Lake Clark to the west.

The Aleutian Range fades briefly near Iliamna Lake before regaining height in the peaks north and south of Mount Katmai. Had it not been for the 1912 eruption of nearby Novarupta that collapsed Katmai's summit cone, the mountain would be some 7,500 feet high. As it is, 6,715-foot Mount Katmai is one of eleven 6,000-foot-plus mountains in Katmai National Park and Preserve and one of fifteen active volcanoes lining Shelikof Strait between the peninsula and Kodiak Island.

Southwest of Katmai, Aniakchak caldera also bears stark witness to Alaska's rim of fire and ice. About 3,500 years ago, a cataclysmic eruption blew the top off Aniakchak Mountain. This caused its summit slopes to collapse, leaving a 2,000-foot-deep, six-mile-wide caldera. The Aniakchak River rises in Surprise Lake within the caldera and then cuts through its rim at the Gates, embarking on a rollicking thirty-two-mile journey to the sea.

Southwest of Aniakchak, the Alaska Peninsula ends opposite Unimak Island. This narrow waterway was called False Pass because passage on its northern end appeared blocked at low tide. Mount Shishaldin (9,372 feet) on Unimak Island towers above the strait and is one of those volcanoes with an almost perfect symmetry to its cone. Here, the terrain sweeps upward from sea level to above 9,000 feet in less than ten miles. Beyond watery Unimak Pass, the Aleutian Islands trail off across the North Pacific toward Asia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The islands get smaller as the chain bends westward, but mountains — many more than 4,000 feet tall — continue to dominate the landscape.

In the other direction from Lake Clark Pass, the rocky backbone of the Alaska Range curves northeastward for some 500 miles across the heart of Alaska, dividing the southcentral coast from the interior. No roads cross its crest in the western half, and it is a barrier even to the moisture-laden clouds that drop most of their load south of the range.

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names insists that the tallest mountain in the range — and the highpoint of North America — is called Mount McKinley. Athabascan Natives of the interior long called the mountain Denali, meaning "the high one." Charles Sheldon, who was instrumental in the creation of Mount McKinley National Park, also always referred to the mountain as Denali. Sheldon first arrived near the mountain from the north in 1906 and wrote: "Soon after starting again we caught glimpses of snowy peaks toward the south, and when we reached the top, Denali and the Alaska Range suddenly burst into view ahead, apparently very near. I can never forget my sensations at the sight. No description could convey any suggestion of it." Sheldon was not the first — nor would he be the last — to be fooled by this country's scale. Denali was still a good thirty miles away, but Sheldon was certainly right about the mountain's name.

The highest summits of the Alaska Range cluster about Denali: Mounts Crosson (12,800 feet), Foraker (17,400 feet), Russell (11,670 feet), and Dall (8,756 feet) curving to the southwest; Hunter (14,573 feet) and Huntington (12,240 feet) forming a barrrier to the south; and Silverthrone (13,220 feet), Deception (11,826 feet), and Mather (12,123 feet) running eastward along the crest of the range. Today, all of these summits are within Denali National Park and Preserve.

The lowest crossing of the main Alaska Range is 2,300-foot Broad Pass, the route of both the Alaska Railroad and the George Parks Highway. Broad Pass is just that — almost flat and very broad — sending waters either north to the Nenana-Yukon drainage or south to the Susitna River. Both the railroad and the highway ease through the remainder of the range by following the canyon of the Nenana River.

. Copyright © by Walter Borneman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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