In a novel almost as magnificent as its subject matter, Michener tells the engrossing story of Alaska (derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska” meaning “great land” or “that which the sea breaks against”). From its primitive beginnings on through its long and agonizing quest for statehood, I was mesmerized by the author’s rich historical detail and finely drawn, colorful characterizations of the natives and pioneers who settled this vast and often formidable land. Nicknamed ‘Seward’s Folly’ (after U.S. Secretary of State William Seward who signed the agreement for its purchase from Russia in 1867), the American government foolishly and shamefully ignored the well-being of Alaska’s people and natural resources for well over one hundred years. In the interim, this ‘great land’ was left at the mercy of dirty politics and even dirtier politicians, lobbied by gluttonous west coast merchants making money hand over fist in their Alaskan trade ventures, which drained Alaska’s resources with no concern given to their replenishment.
The Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 and subsequent gold discoveries at Dawson’s Creek, Nome and other areas initially, and finally, caught America’s eye. This awakening was a very slow process; however, as it took another sixty-two years before Alaska would to win its hard-fought battle for statehood in 1959. Alaska is a lush, enjoyable reading experience as well as an educational one, and I truly appreciate the fact that it served up both ingredients in such abundance. Who says we can’t have it all?