Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

by Bathsheba Demuth


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A Best Book of the Year as chosen by Nature, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal.

A groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between capitalism, communism, and Arctic ecology since the dawn of the industrial age.

Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.

The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans—the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia—before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?

Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, as well as from archival sources, Demuth shows how the social, the political, and the environmental clashed in this liminal space. Through the lens of the natural world, she views human life and economics as fundamentally about cycles of energy, bringing a fresh and visionary spin to the writing of human history.

Floating Coast is a profoundly resonant tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that immense human needs and ambitions have brought, and will continue to bring, to a finite planet.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393635164
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 08/20/2019
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 549,723
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian at Brown University, specializing in the United States and Russia, and in the history of energy and past climates. She has lived in and studied Arctic communities across Eurasia and North America.

Table of Contents

Preface: On Names xiii

Prologue: The Migration North 1

Part I Sea, 1848-1900

1 Whale Country 15

2 Whale Fall 44

Part II Shore, 1870-1960

3 The Floating Coast 73

4 The Waking Ice 102

Part III Land, 1880-1970

5 The Moving Tundra 137

6 The Climate of Change 169

Part IV Underground, 1900-1980

7 The Unquiet Earth 199

8 The Elements of Redemption 228

Part V Ocean, 1920-1990

9 Caloric Values 257

10 Species of Enlightenment 280

Epilogue: The Transformation of Matter 307

Acknowledgments 319

A Note on Sources 323

Notes 325

Index 395

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