ALASKA by James Michener

What a tome, what a saga, what a history - all 1071 pages of it. A massive achievement to write, and a massive achievement to read. Whew. But so, so worth it. We visited Alaska the most popular way - by cruise ship - and then spent a few more days in Anchorage after the cruise finished. We were captivated by the place, and barely scratched the surface in the very short time that we were there. The natural beauty of the place is astounding, as are the challenges this environment poses to mere mortals who have attempted to carve out a life there.  I so wanted to find out more about Alaska, the people, the history and the environment, and James Michener seemed a very easy way to do it.

This novel follows much the same pattern as Michener's other massive historical sagas using a particular geographical area to tell his stories. With Alaska, he goes back to the very beginning  - the bones of the  spectacular geography laid down millions of years ago, pre historic animal populations, early human migration and settlement - the Athapascans, Eskimos, Tlingits and Aleuts, the arrival of the Russians from across the Bering Sea and the havoc they wrecked on the indigenous peoples and the sea otter populations, the Americans and British also wanting their slice of the pie. Then the discovery of gold,   with mass migrations from all over the world, the development of the salmon industry, the importance of aviation, oil exploration. It's a marvellous account, and has inspired me to one day go back to Alaska and explore further. It seems it is always treated as the poor cousin by the rest of the US, but there have been no scruples at all in exploiting it for its natural resources at the expense of its people. Just a tad long though - a couple of hundred pages shorter would have had no impact on the story or the lives of the people in the story.  

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