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The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic

4.4 20
by Gay Salisbury, Laney Salisbury

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"A stirring tale of survival, thanks to man's best friend . . . reflects a transcendent understanding and impeccable research."—Seattle Times
In 1925, a deadly diphtheria epidemic swept through icebound Nome, Alaska. The life-saving serum was a thousand miles away, and a blizzard was brewing. Airplanes could not fly in such conditions: only the dogs could


"A stirring tale of survival, thanks to man's best friend . . . reflects a transcendent understanding and impeccable research."—Seattle Times
In 1925, a deadly diphtheria epidemic swept through icebound Nome, Alaska. The life-saving serum was a thousand miles away, and a blizzard was brewing. Airplanes could not fly in such conditions: only the dogs could do it. Racing against death, twenty dog teams relayed the serum across the Alaskan wilderness as newspapers nationwide headlined the drama, enthralling an entire generation. The heroic dash to Nome inspired the annual Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska and immortalized Balto, the lead dog whose arrival in Nome over a snow-blown trail was an American legend in the making. His bronze statue still stands in New York City's Central Park, in dedication to the "Endurance, Fidelity and Intelligence" of the dogs that saved Nome. This is their story, the greatest dog story never fully told, until now.

Editorial Reviews

“A remarkable adventure story....The Salisburys convey the brutal conditions of the trail convincingly enough to make you shiver in your beach chair.”
USA Today
In the compelling The Cruelest Miles, the real story involved 20 mushers and hundreds of dogs. And the tale turns out to be far more inspiring and complicated than the animated 1995 children's movie. — Deidre Donahue
Publishers Weekly
"No one understands Alaska. [Officials in Washington] wire me to step over to Nome to look up a little matter, not realizing that it takes me 11 days to get there." That's the state's governor, Scott Bone, in 1922, three years before the distant, former Gold Rush outpost would need help combating an incipient diphtheria epidemic. As the Salisbury cousins amply demonstrate, upstate Alaska during winter was about as alien and forbidding as the moon-total isolation, endless night, bizarre acoustics, unreliably frozen rivers, and 60-below temperatures eventually causing both body and mind to shut down altogether. Under these circumstances, the 674-mile dogsled journey required to bring Nome the desperately needed serum seemed destined to fail, to put it mildly. The authors rightly frame the undertaking as the last gasp of an ancient technology before the impending arrival of air and road travel. As soon as news of the situation reached the "lower 48," it instantly became headline fodder for weeks. The book demonstrates the remarkable intimacy mushers develop with their lead dogs-only a handful of sled dogs have the character, courage, intelligence and will to be the lead dog. Especially heroic were renowned musher Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Balto, who undertook the treacherous and long final leg; the dog is immortalized by a statue in New York City's Central Park. The journey itself occupies the second half of the book; the authors judiciously flesh out the story with fascinating background information about Nome, the Gold Rush, dogsledding and Alaska. This is an elegantly written book, inspiring tremendous respect for the hardy mushers and their canine partners. (June 9) Forecast: Similar in tone and pull to tales like Seabiscuit or In the Heart of the Sea, this book has the potential to become a considerable seller, helped along by print ads, and author tour and media interviews. And who won't want to read a stirring tale of kids in peril and noble dogs? Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
Well-researched, well-told tale of the heroic dogsled rescue of diphtheria-hit Nome, Alaska in 1925--a will-they-make-it-in-time drama that gripped the nation. The diphtheria serum Nome's doctor had requested was not delivered, and as winter ice set in, the area was cut off from the rest of the world. As fate would have it, diphtheria soon broke out. Known as "the strangler," diphtheria is especially fatal to children. The lifesaving serum had to travel a harrowing 674 miles over forbidding terrain via dogsled. (10 May 2004)
—Steve Forbes
Fans of true-life adventure, armchair explorers, and dog lovers will be first in line for this best-seller, a fast-paced saga of the 1925 mission of mercy to take life-saving diphtheria serum from the ice-free port of Seward, Alaska to the ice-locked port of Nome. This is a story of high adventure and heroism that will capture and hold the reader's attention to the very last page. Readers will quickly become caught up in this man vs. nature journey in which volunteer mushers and their dogs risk life and limb to relay the precious cargo over 600 miles to Nome. The authors vividly describe each harrowing leg of the expedition through the wilds of central Alaska. Positives far outweigh any minor negative criticisms. The story of this account is well researched, with 23 pages of source notes that are interesting and worthwhile in themselves. Also included are maps of the route, an extensive selected bibliography that includes websites, and a follow-up on the post-race lives of the major players. There are 16+ pages of interesting b/w photographs depicting life in Alaska in 1925. In addition, the reader will learn about the lives of the drivers and the qualities and training of sled dogs. Two of the dogs, Togo and Balto, are given special mention. After reading The Cruelest Miles, the articles on the sports pages about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which commemorates this mission, will take on a whole new meaning. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Norton, 303p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog., Ages 12 to adult.
—Prof. John E. Boyd
Library Journal
Isolated by geography and blizzard conditions in the winter of 1925 as the ravages of diphtheria threatened to take a deadly toll, Nome, AK, desperately needed help. The only way to get serum in was by dogsled, and this book tells the story of the courageous men and their canine companions who braved incredible adversity to save the town. The real heroes were the dogs, especially the team leaders, and their interaction with and interdependence on humans makes tales of the Iditarod pale by comparison. (A statue in New York's Central Park honors one of the dogs, Balto.) In a consistently gripping account that supplants the only other book on the saga, Kenneth Ungermann's The Race to Nome, the authors, cousins who both have a background in journalism, offer a carefully researched and well-written account of this event. This work is sure to appeal to a wide readership. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/03.]-Jim Casada, emeritus, Winthrop Univ., Rock Hill, SC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Many readers are familiar with the story of the dog Balto and the Nome, AK, diphtheria outbreak of 1925 and how 20 men and more than 200 dogs raced 674 miles against time and weather to save a community. The Salisburys provide a complete account of that feat-the first book in 40 years to do so-and, perhaps, introduce readers to two of the most crucial and courageous characters in this drama, Leonhard Seppala and his peerless lead dog, Togo. The authors supply a constant flow of interesting facts about Nome, the introduction of Siberian Huskies to Alaska, the beginnings of the Alaska airline industry, and why air delivery of the serum was discounted as an option. The heart of the book, however, is the run itself. Readers will be on tenterhooks as they follow the mushers and their dogs through minus-60-degree temperatures, unbroken trails, "ice fog," treacherous ice floes, gales, and blizzards, from the January day when Dr. Curtis Welsh realized that he faced an epidemic with only three nurses and an outdated supply of serum to that early morning less than five days later when Gunnar Kaasen and his Balto-led dogsled team arrived in Nome, exhausted and frostbitten, and carrying the new serum. At a time when a cost/benefit analysis is a major precursor to action, this book is a refreshing look at the lengths people and their devoted animals went to simply because, as one musher put it, "I wanted to help."-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two cousins debut with an eloquent account of the famous 1925 dash by dog-sled teams to bring diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska. Freelance journalist Laney Salisbury and former publishing executive Gay Salisbury seamlessly blend Alaska’s early history and an anthropological survey of Eskimo traditions with a page-turning chronicle of the race to Nome. Once the center of a gold rush, by December 1924 it was a small town on the Bering Sea shut off from the rest of the territory, its only harbor icebound from November until spring, its only line of communication the trails the dog teams used. In December, Dr. Curtis Welch noted an increasing number of illnesses among the local native population as well as the town’s children, suspected diphtheria, and became increasingly alarmed. New supplies of serum had failed to arrive, and he had no laboratory facilities. As children died, and the number of infected rose in late January 1925, Nome’s mayor placed the town under quarantine and issued a nationwide plea for serum. It was located in Anchorage and taken by rail to Nenana, where the first dog team picked it up and began the race across frozen seas and up icy mountains to complete the 674-mile journey to Nome. Both the weather and the terrain proved hostile and capricious: ice floes suddenly broke apart, blizzards blew up, and temperatures dropped. The writers vividly describe the race against time and nature, which attracted national attention, and provide well-rounded portraits of the team leaders and their dogs, especially Balto, the leader of the team that reached Nome first. His statue stands in New York’s Central Park. A riveting epic that memorably honors the heroes, both human and canine,who pushed themselves to the limit to save others. Author tour
Sara Wheeler - New York Times Book Review
“A classic tale of man against nature.”
Emily Carter - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Quite literally a cliff hanger.”
David Stress - Seattle Weekly
“Stirring passages detailing the rigors of dogsledding, the bond between man and beast, and the importance of a good lead dog make for irresistible Jack London kind of stuff.”
Velma Wallis
“Sequence by sequence the Salisburys have written not only about a race but also about our Alaskan history and the hardy people who first came, both Native and non-Native, to make our history so rich.”
Alice King - Entertainment Weekly
“A scrupulously researched, cleanly written account that makes for a rollicking good adventure.”
Sebastian Junger
“This a moving story, superbly researched and deftly told.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Gay Salisbury is the former associate publisher of Basic Books. She splits her time between Fairbanks, Alaska, and New York City.

Laney Salisbury, a Columbia Journalism School graduate, has reported from Africa, the Middle East, and New York. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I work at a university and this book was selected for a program that I am helping to plan. I decided to read the book so that I would be able to help participants decide if the want to participate in this program. The book was so fun to read and very informative. I loved all of the background information that the authors gave us to help us understand the differences between life now and life in Nome in the 1920. Very good historical information as well. I learned so much more than I expected to with simple "work reading" and I can't wait to talk to the participants of my program and see how they liked the book I picked!
Grannie-Reader More than 1 year ago
I liked this a LOT! In a way it was almost two stories; the geoloic and social development of Alaska and the story of the epidemic and the people who responded to it. It was well written and a vivid portrayal of the area and especially the heartfelt, loving response of the citizens of Alaska to save those affected by the illness. Man and dog pushed themselves beyond 100% and the result was the ending of the epidemic. It was interesting to hear of the relationships between the musher(s) and his/their team(s). Having visited Nome, the depiction of the city and surrounding area were real and a great reminder of the harshness of the climate & the difficulties that arise. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in history/geography/and just a generally good story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Novel_One More than 1 year ago
This account of the heroic efforts of men and their dog teams to save an Alaskan town from an epidemic is truly amazing. It starts out a little slowly with background information, but like a cartoon snowball going downhill, it soon gathers speed and urgency. I read a copy from my library, but bought it myself because I knew I would want to read it again. Don't miss this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
A girl in my running club was watching me run with my dog and commented that he had 'lead dog mentality' and recommended this book. I bought it, and it collected dust for six months before I picked it up. Once I started, I was drawn into Nome and hated putting the book down. The book illustrates life in Nome- what were people's daily lives like. What challenges they faced and how they spent their recreation time. Alaska's local, regional and state politics were explained, as well as Alaska's relationship to the federal government. Then of course, there's the image of isolated, rural life as it was poised for dramatic changes through modern technology. That alone would make it an interesting, 3 star book. Then the authors included the dogs and their drivers. Their anecdotes were sometimes delightful and charming a few were awe-inspiring and several were heartbreaking. Their heroic acts made this book a memorable read. I live in Alaska, and immediately lent the book to a girlfriend who loved it as much as I did. She pointed out how many people we knew that had come from the towns and villages mentioned in the book, making it even more meaningful for us. If you're interested in Alaska or dogs this would be a great read for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book as much as any I have read in years. The story is set up very well so the reader has a great understanding of the terrain faced by the mushers and dogs, and the predicament faced by Nome. The description of the scene when 'Wild Bill' pushed off on the first leg of the run in the middle of the night with a temperature at fifty below zero gave me chills. A great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fast-paced race against time. An informative and historical glimpse at Alaska's 'dark side of the moon' accompanied by man's very best friend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Saliburys have done an excellent job of putting the serum run in context. Anyone who has actually *read* the book without a prior bias will know exactly why other methods were not risked. At that time, dog sleds in Alaska were the standard transportation. There wasn't much alternative. No other mode of transportation combined reliability and efficiency in the same way. And if you want to check the sequence of events, you can always check microfilm records of the major newspapers of the time. I seriously doubt that the vaccine manufacturers needed to stage that sort of event. It would have redounded upon their ability to provide the vaccine as needed. This book is an excellent read and gives a real appreciation of the toughness and rigors of the Alaskan frontier.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being an admirer and owner of 2 Siberian Huskies attracted me to this book and I got a lot more than I bargained for. The well written history of the dogs, people, and places involved in this true-life drama made me laugh, cry, and shake my head in amazement. When I first started reading I thought 'they should make a movie of this.' But I soon realized that no movie could possibly do justice to the heroic acts and amazing history that lead to this incredible event. This book is a must for anyone who admires the amazing courage and spirit of dogs, (especially Siberian Huskies); or for anyone who wants to be reminded of the self-sacrificing goodness of human nature; or simply wants to know more about the history of Alaska. 'Thank You' to the Salisbury's CM Asheville, NC
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jac2848- did not like nook sample
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel easily captures the heart of any reader as its vivid excitement and historical accuracy seamlessly run together. These dogs and men had an unforgettable courage amidst some of the harshest conditions imaginable. The Cruelest Miles is an excellent read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
what an inspiring store. one to tall you children. well written and full of suspense, thrills and uncertainty.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 'Vaccination Condemned,' the author (Elben) shares that the Mulford Company (vaccine manufacturer) staged the Balto sled dog promotion to stir up fear and suspense. She writes that the vaccine could have been transported faster and easier, but that would not have been as good PR, and that AFTER the serum was delivered and utilized was when the real epidemic broke out. That is tragedy #1. Tragedy #2 is that dogs suffer terribly and often die pulling sleds. I guess I could add that tragedy #3 is people buy into dramatic stories and don't investigate further behind the scenes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sebastian Junger, author of the 'Pefect Storm' and 'Fire,' summed up the Salisburys' writing perfectly when he said: 'Fortunately, the...writing is as straightforward and honest as the men they are describing.' Gay and Laney found a story--a triumph!--that needed only to be told. The rest has taken excellent care of itself. In a time of war and political slugging, this story's theme takes on even more specialness. How can one turn away the delicious recount of children being saved from sure death during a bullying Winter that made even the Eskimo quake?