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However, some statements in the book are incorrect, e.g., when explaining plate tectonis, and I agree that the Aleutians are isolated and quiet, but they are definitely not untouched. There are islands you almost don't dare to step on because of unexploded ordnance or environmental hazards - all remnants from WWII.
I must say I got a little tired from reading over and over again how far away from any help they were and how long they would survive if capsizing. I think it would have been enough to dedicate a single chapter to this, and spend more time instead describing the things that actually happened and that they discovered. I also would have liked to read more about the great kayaking they did rather than coming to the conclusion that they behaved like little boys fighting for prestige and food.
The way the historical facts are woven into the story is well done, and the photos are really great.
Still, this book is rewarding and worth reading but I don't think it will find it's way to anyone's "best-of " list. More interesting adventure/travel reading can be found in Byron Rick's "Homelands" or "A Viking Voyage" by W. Hodding Carter, just to name two.
The trip took 25 days in mid-summer, but it sure didn't seem like summer to me. The Aleutian Islands are located in the heart of the Bering Sea, in one of the most dangerous and stormiest waters in the world. But the team Bowermaster put together were all skilled, experienced and strong men. They kayaked from island to island, camped on the beaches and hiked up the volcanic mountains that dominate this small world. They carried their food with them as well as camera equipment as one of the men was an official photographer for National Geographic.
The best part of the book was the well-researched history. I am fascinated by all things about the frozen north and wondered if the Aleutian Islands as depicted by James Michener in "Alaska" was accurate. This book confirmed the accuracy of the fictional book and even added more. There are no people who live on the Aleutian Islands anymore even though they once held a population of more than 25,000. But first the Russians and then the Americans discovered that this was a place to hunt for seal and otter and forced the people to hunt for these pelts. After being isolated for thousands of years, the Aleuts had no natural resistance to disease and many of them died. There was still a small colony in the 1940s but they were all removed from the area because they were being attacked by Japan. Most of these people were sent to internment camps in Alaska and never returned to the Aleuts.
No wonder this place attracted Bowermaster and his National Geographic crew. Of course, in spite of being properly outfitted, there was still danger everywhere, especially since they had no communication with the outside world. And they had to paddle their kayaks for as many as 7 hours without a rest through volatile and dangerous waters. Some of the time I felt I was right with them. The map could have been better, but the photographs were excellent -- definitely National Geographic quality. They captured the beauty and the isolation with a professional's eye.
Because I have a particular interest in Alaska, I did enjoy this book. But the writing reads like a National Geographic piece -- clear, concise and accurate, but lacking in real passion or interesting personal details. The author tried to introduce a small bit of description of some tension in the group, but I had never gotten to know the people enough to really care. I guess I wanted it to be more than what it was -- four modern men dressed in Gore-tex looking for adventure. Therefore, as far as my own personal taste goes, I can only give it a modest recommendation.
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The book scared the pants off me, discouraged and depressed me somewhat (not that that's the book's fault -- it's the facts' fault), and made a lasting impression. It presented daunting facts and figures -- how many billions of tons of pollution we emit, how much trash there is that we don't know what to do with, and so on. It also presented things we can all do to help -- from political activism to making better laundry choices. I admit I felt a little hopeless after reading it, because I would look at all the suggestions and all the bad things we're doing and then look up from the book and see people disregarding all of this, polluting wantonly, not bothering to recycle, etc. But once the edge wore off I think the book left me with a higher awareness of the problem -- made it stick in my mind, somewhat and served as a reminder to me.
It's got all the facts and figures for anyone who wants them, and it's written in a simple, concise format, sort of one issue per page, with issues gathered into categories. It's probably just going to preach to the converted, but it does provide a nice dose of inspiration and some handy facts and figures for them.
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