The history of Alaska is filled with stories of new land and new riches -- and ever present are new people with competing views over how the valuable resources should be used: Russians exploiting a fur empire; explorers checking rival advances; prospectors stampeding to the clarion call of "Gold!"; soldiers battling out a decisive chapter in world war; oil wildcatters looking for a different kind of mineral wealth; and always at the core of these disputes is the question of how the land is to be used and by whom.
While some want Alaska to remain static, others are in the vanguard of change. Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land shows that there are no easy answers on either side and that Alaska will always be crossing the next frontier.
The last American frontier, Alaska packs into 615,230 square miles the American saga of explorers and hunters, followed first by miners and soldiers, then homesteaders and tourists making their way into the wilderness. Borneman, a historian and lawyer who has produced multimedia programs for National Geographic, is at his best when he writes about these heroes who battled treacherous weather and terrain. At the same time, he stages their adventures against the backdrop of military and political events. Though some newspapers derided Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, for purchasing the territory as a strategic outpost in 1867, his decision proved prescient during WWII, when Alaska proved useful in patrolling the northern Pacific, and especially during the Cold War, when it allowed us to keep watch over communist countries in Asia. Until it obtained statehood in 1959, however, Alaska remained a colonial possession where the U.S. government controlled access to natural resources on the land, in the water and under the surface. Even now, 41% of the state belongs to national reserves; and the controversies continue among conservationists, fisheries, and timber and oil companies. The chapters on Alaska's environment demonstrate the balance of textbook history and storytelling that makes this informative book so readable. On occasion, Borneman becomes mired in local history, such as the quarrel over the state capital, when he might have instead devoted these pages to the Natives, whom he leaves hovering in the background until they suddenly leap forward as activists in the 1960s. He might also have included illustrations. Mirroring the Alaskan landscape, the book's scale and blocks of unbroken text can be daunting. 10 maps.