To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we do not use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyses reviews to verify trustworthiness.
The Floating Coast is an example of history at its absolute best--meaning, that it transcends the heady realm of academic discourse and grabs the reader by the heart and by the stomach, propelling them through its pages and inspiring a sense of urgency about the past and our future. Over five sections--which take the reader on a journey from sea to coast to land to deep underground and back out to the ocean--Professor Demuth offers a history of foreign interaction with the land, animals, and people of the arctic. Along the way, the descriptions of the arctic landscape are so vivid and visceral that from my couch I could almost hear the ice cracking and the walrus roaring and see the ice floes moving and whales and men fighting to the death.
This vividness is not merely good writing, though it certainly is that. It is also part of Professor Demuth's mission with the book: that we should not just know, intellectually, of the effect that humans and their trade and economic systems have had on the natural world. Rather, we should feel it. I grew up in New England, and thought I knew the 19th century history of whaling ships' enthusiasm for hunting down whales even as their numbers dwindled. Yet it was only in reading the first section of The Floating Coast that I began to understand emotionally what it means to kill a whale, strip its blubber, and toss the meat and bones back into the sea, and what it means for a species to be decimated in the name of human desire and profit. Professor Demuth's vivid descriptions of humans killing and cultivating whales, walruses, arctic foxes, caribou, and destroying landscapes in their frantic search for gold, forced me to reckon with the history of a system that has both created my world and which threatens to destroy it.
Yet the book is not as bleak as I've made it sound--in lovingly describing a world she knows so well, Professor Demuth leaves readers with an enduring sense of awe for arctic land, climate, and the species and people that survive and thrive there. As human action continues to invite a climate catastrophe, the arctic is burning, melting, and changing. The Floating Coast reminds us, though, that it is not the arctic that is frail. Rather it is humans that are frail, and it is we who will be the victims of our own failure to care for our world. It will be a long time before I forget this lesson.
Read it, be unsettled by it. We all should be. If I had my way, The Floating Coast would be required reading for all citizens of 2019.
I have spent the better part of the last 30 years living in Nome, Alaska, and have traveled extensively around the Bering Strait Region - back when one side was still the Soviet Union, again after it became Russia, and to all the Native villages on the Alaska side. I started this book with some trepidation, concerned with what lens the author would view this place and its people that are so dear to me.
I have been fortunate enough to witness the far-reaching cultural, social, generational, communal and nutritional impacts the landing of a bowhead brings to a village, and to everyone with whom that whale is shared. I only had to read this early paragraph to relax and recognize that this author clearly experienced this region with the ability to see through different cultural perspectives:
"What is a whale? It made the darkness of the polar nights visible, the cold bearable, and stomachs satiable. It was a soul in life, a gift ensuring human survival in its death, a means to power, a site of communal labor, a set of expectations and ceremonies, a theory of history."
What the author also brings is an amazing amounted of documented research of historical records and environmental research that have greatly deepened my understanding of the place I call home. Other reviewers have written more eloquently about how engagingly this book is written, its broader themes, and why it should matter to everyone. What I can add to their accurate reviews is that it is informed, humanely observed, and deeply authentic.
I highly recommend this book. This is an extraordinarily thoughtful, grand, and important history of a more-than-human landscape that has both been shaped by and shaped the ideas of humans. Bravo. I'm very much looking forward to future books by this author.