Treasures Of Alaska: Last Great American Wilderness, by Jeff Rennicke, photographs by Michael Melford
One of the ironies that I never cease to find entertaining is that National Geographic is not particularly good at maps. Admittedly, there are not too many maps in this book and the ones that are present are good ones, but the most obvious questions that spring from the map, including the massive amount of space of Alaska’s land that is sealed from human habitation, are not the questions that the author of this book chooses to investigate. If National Geographic has a well-deserved reputation as being rather unskilled at cartography in their products designed for a mass audience, one thing that they do well is to photograph areas of interest in the world. This book, if its text lacks something in terms of its perspective and approach, certainly has beautiful photographs of Alaska and that makes it worth the time spent looking at Alaska’s beauty. Honestly, one can never go wrong making a book that focuses its attention on the photography of Alaska, and as someone who has looked at a few books of this kind, I can say that such material doesn’t get old and is unlikely to.
This book is about 200 pages and is divided into five chapters that are roughly organized by theme. The first chapter of the book looks at Alaska as a land made by rain, since it is difficult to convey just how much rain falls on coastal Alaska relative to even the rainy areas of the Southeastern United States and Cascadia, which are no strangers to massive amounts of rain (1). After that comes a chapter devoted to fire and ice (2), those twin elements that are vitally important in understanding Alaska’s geography, with the fires coming from the many volcanoes that are to be found along the ring of fire that extends along the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates that make up much of the southern boundary of the state, and the ice from glaciers. This is followed by the author’s discussion of matters of space and light, two other phenomena that are common in a state where the midnight sun and a large amount of open wilderness are quite important aspects of life (3). After that comes a look at the history of Alaska through the mists of time (4), based on what material remains survive to the present day. The final chapter of the book then discusses the wild animals, like the moose, bears, salmon, and whales that are notable and iconic in our understanding (5). After this there are notes, acknowledgements, suggestions for further reading, an index, and a copyright notice.
One of the notable aspects of the beauty of Alaska is that it is most obvious during a small section of the year, namely that part when Alaska happens to be green and beautiful as opposed to being an icy, snowy, and windy area that is hard to get to and hard to live in. This book conveys a picture of Alaska’s beauty that includes glaciers but which tends to dwell on green forests and valleys and rivers and salmon and whales and people living on the edge of an austere and difficult land. The photography of the book does a much better job than the text of the book in conveying the beauty as well as the fragile nature of mankind’s existence there surrounded by ice and fire. It is a shame that the text of this book does not do a better job at discussing Alaska because it is clear that there is a lot about the state and its history that one could say, but the author just does not appear to do a good job at understanding and relating to the concerns and perspectives of his audience, instead being more interested in whining about the way that people misunderstand totem poles and the loss of heathen Tlingit religion.