on June 10, 2004
There are two books that are a must read if you or anyone you know is intersted in Alaska. They are ALASKA by James Michener and LOOKING FOR ALASKA by Peter Jenkins. Remember Jenkins from his book, A WALK ACROSS AMERICA, Michener from so many big sellers like TEXAS. Michener offers more of the history, in his fact-ion kind of style, Jenkins offers many fascinating views of real people and actual places from today. Michener wrote this book in the 70's and it is a very, very long book, so there is thirty years of Alaska that is no where to be found and this place has changed so much in that time. Peter Jenkins lived there for a year and a half in 1999 through the end of 2000 and traveled thousands of miles in search of the amazing Alaska of today. I wish Jenkins had included more history, is there a place that has had much more of a diverse and fascinating one than Alaska, I wish Michener had met more of the actual people and gone to the actual places and lived the Alaska life like Jenkins did. For these reasons I suggest both books to the several thousand people every year that I work with as they plan their tours of The Last Frontier. Many of my clients have told me after reading these books and going to Alaska that the books greatly enriched their trip and made them go back. One couple I book travel for has been to Alaska five times in the last three years!
on January 8, 2004
This book is among my favorites. I have read most or many of his books twice and always find them to be entertaining and educational. I keep a copy of Hawaii, Alaska, and Texas near at hand.
This is a nice 850 page historical novel that gives a very detailed picture of the evolution of a great state. Alaska is one of the last places to have a very clean and unspoiled environment where fish can still be seen to just jump out of the ocean.
Michener's books use a common plot formula that starts out by telling a story that in some way reflects and utilizes accurately the actual or known historical developments and time lines and people of a region. The story progresses through the development of the region starting with the very early people that came from Asia, he adds in settlers, bush pilots, fisherman, salmon canning factories, business people, etc. adding in more characters and phasing out others as time moves forward up to current times.
When I decided to review this book I was not certain if people were still interested in buying this book but I was pleased to see that there is still interest at Amazon.com in buying and reading this great story.
After this read this book I visited Alaska. If you have the resources I recommend a fishing trip to Alaska assuming that you like fishing - or just a wilderness trip. Alaska is cool even in the summers, but the clear waters, mountains and all the unspoiled wilderness and animals make it a special place. If you cannot go, then read this book. If you can go, read this first.
Good read and a good gift.
Jack in Toronto
on December 8, 2003
I just finished this book in preparation for a trip to Alaska in half a year, and highly recommend it for those who want a sense of Alaska's history and culture. The nature of the book is to help people understand the history of the area, its geography, and what daily life was like from earliest times to the present (or at least to the 1980s when it was written). The characters are generally representative of the kinds of people who have lived and presently live in Alaska, showing their differing ideas, lifestyles, and backgrounds with some real historical characters described as well. The different characters and their descendents intersect each other's lives to form somewhat of a plot line, but plot and character development are secondary to showing the geography, culture and lifestyles, etc., of the peoples of Alaska. Michener has creative ways of bringing out explanations of how things worked by having some characters ask others about it, etc., and this he does with such smoothness that it seems natural to the storyline. It is masterfully written, and in the end, one does have a good idea of the history of Alaska and the differing cultures and ideas which have dominated at various times in its past. There are some maps included, and a section explaining which parts of the book are historical and which are fictional, which is very helpful.
on June 30, 2002
Mr. Michener is known for his lengthy descriptions, but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with a great deal of historical knowledge about Alaska. I have also read "Journey" so I know more about Alaska than perhaps I ever cared to know. Michener really brings his writing talents to the table in the final chapter about modern Alaska. The basic issue in the final chapter is the conflict between modern culture and traditional culture. Kendra, a teacher of Eskimos from Utah, ends up having to make a marriage choice between an idealistic lawyer who supports Alaska's traditional or subsistence cultures, Jeb Keeler, and the grandson of a Seattle business executive who works as a scientific worker on an iceberg and ran
Iditarod dogsled race, Rick Venn. Perhaps surprisingly, she chooses Venn, mostly because of his noble behavior in the dogsled race, when he sacrifices his chance to win to aid a fallen comrade.
The third main character in the final chapter is Poley Markham, also a lawyer from Phoenix, who attempts to take advantage of the numerous legal problems that arise in connexion with the Alaska Native Settlements Act,making himself instantly wealthy. He is on the side of modernism,unlike Jeb, and with his rather macho personality has a strong side- interest in hunting which he shares with Jeb, and which is the final chapter's main subplot(hunting the"The Alaskan Big Eight"). There are others --the scientific expert on tsunamis is an important one. The ethical questions Kendra must face in connection with her Eskimo students are touching and are well developed. Michener occasionally uses tragedy if it serves his purposes, as it does here. A suicide and an unexpected death are symptoms revealing many of the problems of traditional cultures.
We are also repeatedly told how and why everything is more expensive in Alaska, due to the Jones Act of 1920. The lawyer Jeb Wheeler is finally killed by a tsunami in the climax of the book, perhaps also revealing Michener's views of liberal lawyers.
All chapters are similarly developed so that by the end one gets a real feeling for Alaska's traditional cultures, and a lot
more too. On the scientific side, we get geology, anthropology, oceanography, biology, including getting inside the minds of mammoths and salmon. We are introduced to a great deal of Russian colonial history in the early chapters as it relates to Alaska;to a great deal of seafaring lore including the hunt for sea otter and seal pelts, and to the destruction of the Eskimo's way of life by alcoholism , courtesy of an unscrupulous sea captain. We go on several whale hunts and are given details about them and the harpoons. By the time the Americans enter the picture, we are ready for the poor management; all the swindlers connected with the Gold Rush, which gets a thorough treatment, focusing on the Klondike and on Nome. Michener carries the characters from this period, and their progeny, through to the end of the book. There is then a long chapter on the salmon industry which tells us how the industry unscrupulously took advantage of the Jones Act of 1920, which puts all economic power in the hands of Seattle businessmen at the expense of native Alaskans. We are introduced to Sam Bigears of the Tlingit tribe, his daughter Nancy, and to Ah Ting, the Chinese worker who can repair machines but who is ultimately replaced by machines. In the next-to-last chapter we learn of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian islands during World War II and the building of the Alcan Highway, as well as to the adventures of Leroy Flatch, the "bush pilot". There are numerous other sub-plots, and we also get a real feel both for Alaska's oceans, glaciers, icebergs, mountains, vocanoes, and earthquakes.
on February 6, 2002
Simply put, this is just a great book. Michener has got to be the only author that can keep me page turning for over a 1000 pages! Though it took me a while to read, I had the sence that I was reading 10 fantasic novels that all related to the same place. Of course, that's Michener's style. The Source is still my favorite Michener novel, but this one came in a close second. Having read 4 of his books now, I'd say that this one differs in the way Michener carries his characters from Chapter to chapter. You really get a sence of wonder for the history of the land and it's intregue as you read about a character who reappears as an older person in another chapter. The last few chapters are great, as you understand more about the main characters family histories than they do! Alaska really book ends itself well. Some Michener novels cover such a broad spectrum of time that the chapters feel detatched and all together seperate. However, Alaska remains a novel first and foremost about the land itself, and there is just as much wonder and danger in the last chapter as the first. I'm so glad I read this book and can't wait to read another of Michener's books.
on October 17, 2000
Written in 1998, Alaska is true to James Michener's mode of sweeping epic, historical facts and memorable characters. I personally love books about Alaska and because of its length, I purposely took my time reading it, looking forward each evening to opening the pages and losing myself once more in this special world.
This is the story of Alaska in all its glory. From the anthropological details of early animals and human beings, right up to the late 1980s, the main focus is on the last few hundred years. There are the early explorers who were awed by its majesty. There were the first Russian settlements with strong and courageous people. There was the gold rush. And the beginnings of the salmon industry. The horrors of colonialism. The lawlessness. The quest for statehood. And the politics.
Most of all though, it is the story of a place. And because the timeline of the book spans hundreds of years, the characters are interesting but somewhat one-dimensional. We follow their family lines, but they come and go, leaving legacies for future generations but never really being developed to their fullest.
I loved the book for what it was though, a background to all the other books I've been reading about Alaska lately. Thankfully, the author informed the reader in a chapter by chapter prologue exactly what was based on fact and what was truly fiction. Yes, someone did once ride a bike from Dawson to Nome in the dead of winter. And yes, some of the deeds of the early sea captains were taken from actual records.
Again, because the book covers many centuries, there is a limit to how deeply he could go into a theme. For example, I would have liked more about the different native peoples. It's impossible to do it all. But James Michener sure did try.
I do feel that this book is a worthy read and I do recommend it. Give yourself time though to let yourself be swept into this wonderful story of Alaska. There's certainly a lot to learn.
on March 24, 1998
This is the first "thick" book I ever finished. Having put-it-down-itis, I avoided books of great magnitude. Not so in this case. I had attempted to read "Chesapeake" & very much enjoyed the first ten chapters. I liked Michener's style: taking a specific geographic area and tell it's story through individual people occupying it's space, combining fiction with reality. He captured the mystique Alaska holds from the forming of the land masses to the present day.
He writes of woolly mammoths being hunted by early man through the mammoths' eyes, and then the following chapter through the perspective of the hunters. Michener conveys the struggle of survival from both sides with great emotion. He follows the speculative history of early nomadic tribes following their food supply across the Bering Strait.
Mr. Michener then reveals early voyages from people such as Captain Cook and how they survived harsh winters while their ships were frozen in the Alaskan seas.
Then Russian explorers establish military forts and desire to "save the barbaric savages" they discover when they arrive. Following are the bloody battles they fought with them.
The book unfolds further with Seward's Folly and the Gold Rush and of how the United States government persuaded some of its more adventuresome citizens into creating a new life in the last American frontier. This book also reveals the continuing struggle between the "progress" of corporations using Alaska's natural resources such as fish and oil and how it affects the Native inhabitants and how companies in Seattle "the gateway to Alaska" took advantage of it's close proximity at the expense of the Alaskan people.
The late Mr. Michener writes through the unique perspectives of the characters he creates and borrows from history. If I continue, this will be as long as the book!
on March 2, 1999
This audio book highlights the best parts of Mr. Michener's famous work on Alaska.
Peter Graves is at his best in delivering the story of Missy, Tom and the others in their travels. The audio book makes a wonderful companion for all ages, especially when travelling a long distance.
Especially notable is the editing of Mr. Michener's 600 page book to focus on the story of Missy, Tom and the others, while carrying the timeline in an easily understandable fashion.
Having lived in Alaska myself, I found the narrative to be refreshingly accurate in portraying much of the history and landmarks.
My wife, who has not yet visited Alaska, is looking forward to our cruise, which will pass by the very inlets and landmarks referred to in the tapes. As we will be small-ship cruising, you can bet we will each have our headphones on and this audio book playing in the evenings as we enjoy our visit to these beautiful areas!
on April 29, 1998
When I was about 12 my mother told me that she was tired of buying me Hardy Boys books which I would whiz through in about an hour. Books had starting climbing in price and it was getting pretty costly. So I asked my mom what she wanted to do for a solution. She produced a book that had to be almost 2 inches thick to my young eyes. The title was Alaska. I was quite intimidated by the size of the book but since I was a bookworm I decided to try Mr. Michener out. By the end of the first chapter I was hooked. James Michener's impeccable research methods and character developments were genius. I had finally found a favorite author. I've read several of his books since. His books require a lot of time of course. Right now I'm working on Chesapeake. But, I will never forget Alaska. I'll remember the Tlingit, the stories of the pelt salesmen, the Yukon, etc. Michener makes historical fiction far more enjoyable than one would imagine.
on March 22, 2004
Michener has a unique ability for making history come to life in the most interesting of fashions. This book is no exception. I started this book feeling like I knew very little about Alaska and its value. By the time I finished I felt I like an expert on the history and the imense value of "Seward's Folly."
The characters come to life in memorable fashion. One character that I am puzzled by is Captain Michael Healy. For about 40 years he was the law in Alaska, battling pirates, rescuing lost seamen, importing reindeer from Siberia to ease starvation in Alaska. The reason I am puzzled is that Healy is one of the greatest Black Americans, with a "folklore" level history and virtually nobody has heard of him.