Great Reads in Alaska History

[from the vaults, 2/1/2010]

Today some recommendations for great reads in Alaska history–

raiderDid you know the last shot fired in the Civil War was fired in the Aleutians? You would if you’d read Confederate Raider by Murray Morgan, a book about the Confederate raiding ship Shenandoah, built and commissioned to disrupt if not destroy the Union’s whaling industry in the North Pacific. Built in England, armed in the Madeira Islands, the Shenandoah travels around the Cape of Good Hope and starts sinking Yankee whaling ships from the south Atlantic on. But unbeknownst to them, the war ended in the middle of their search and destroy cruise. When they discover this they are afraid to surrender to a Union ship for fear they will be sunk out of hand, so succesful has been their mission, so in an extraordinary feat of seamanship they sail south, dodging irritated Union vessels all the way, round Cape Horn and surrender to the British back in the UK, without suffering a scratch. One of the great sea stories.

girlsIf you’re interested in the Gold Rush there is no better book on the topic than Pierre Berton’s The Klondike Fever, but I also love Good-time Girls by Lael Morgan. This history of the women who came north with the stampeders to mine the minors in saloons, dancehalls and hookshops from Dawson to Nome to Cordova is filled with anecdotes of those days when an attractive woman was literally worth her weight in gold. French Marie, the Oregon Mare, Black Mary, Klondike Kate and more, Lael’s affection and respect for these women, whom she regards as pioneers, rises up from every page of this book. And wait till you find out who the Sterling Highway was named for.

warThe Thousand-Mile War by Brian Garfield is a page-turner set in the Aleutians during World War II. Six months after Pearl Harbor the Japanese took the islands of Attu and Kiska, catching the United States by surprise for the second time in six months and putting Alaska and the west coast seriously at risk from invasion. America scrambled to respond, and for fifteen months the two nations slugged it out in ice and snow and fog. In the end, the Aleutian Campaign tied up a sixth of the Imperial Japanese Air Force and 41,000 ground troops, forces which McArthur and Halsey did not have to fight further south. Complete with maps, illustrations and notes.

grueningMany Battles by Ernest Gruening is a personal narrative written by one of Alaska’s territorial governors and later a US Senator, one of two to vote against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. A practicing politician, Gruening still has less of a personal ax to grind than most, and he’s a good writer. His eyewitness account of Elizabeth Peratrovich’s speech before the territorial legislature in 1948 on the subject of Native suffrage will give you goose bumps.

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Dana View All →

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5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. These look fascinating, thank you!

    My two favorite books on Alaska (a long-time love of mine) are:

    Coming Into The Country ~ John McPhee: wide-ranging, stuffed with personalities and imagery
    Arctic Dreams ~ Barry Lopez: both scientific and purely lyrical.

  2. The McPhee book is the best book written about Alaska by an Outsider. I’ve always meant to read the Lopez book and just haven’t gotten around to it.

  3. I just want to say Thank You for referring me to this page when I asked about a Klondike book. I just got done reading Pierre Berton’s Klondike Fever and I fell even more in love with Alaska and Canada!!! I hope my trip in May 2014 is the first of many to Alaska!

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