Demuth’s decision to portray the region’s energy exchanges is an inspired choice. In the frozen earth and teeming waters of the Bering Strait, there are many losses to tally. Grasping their relationship to one another is crucial ... The book’s refutation of human exceptionalism is evident in its narrative approach. Demuth...writes with care and caution as a foreigner to the region ... Floating Coast is designed to present connections, not characters. Its scope is huge. For readers drawn to the scenic, there are vivid, unforgettable moments ... this book has much to offer. No matter its subject in any given paragraph — whether set in 1870 or 1990; in Imperial Russia, the United States or the Soviet Union; in the sharp specificity of gutting fish or the abstraction of revolution —Floating Coast is rich, well researched and illuminating. It keeps under readers’ feet the vastness of Demuth’s expertise, as solid as a land bridge. She has made it her life’s work to learn about Beringia. In relaying her knowledge, she provides a vision not only of where we on this continent came from but where we are headed. We study the Bering Strait to learn what the future holds.
The author's historical and environmental research is painstaking; coastal villages, whaling boats, Russian prisons, and American mining camps all come alive with detail. But the Arctic is measured by echoes and dramatic shifts — in seasons, in animals, in people and their politics — and the triumph of this book is how carefully Demuth pulls seemingly disparate threads together into a net of actions and consequences from which neither the whales, nor the Yupik, nor our children can escape. Nothing happens easily, and so no history is easily told...It can make for brutal reading ... Demuth deftly cycles back through space and time, from whales to walrus, gold miners to conservationists, tracks that could seem parallel but all slowly pull together under lyrical, measured writing ... it's hard to view Floating Coast as anything but a eulogy. But though Demuth accepts the crushing losses — to cultures and to the natural world — this is not a story about giving up hope. It is a deeply studied, deeply felt book that lays out a devastating but complex history of change, notes what faces us now, and dares us to imagine better.
Though Floating Coast is billed as an environmental history, it could also be described as a meditation on a biosphere. Demuth includes lavish descriptions of the landscape she has been admiring since she first visited as a teenager, but relatively little in the way of straightforward political or economic history ... Demuth organizes her book thematically...which leads to chronological jumps that can be confusing, especially given the leaps between the American and Russian/Soviet cases and among different industries. Her prose is often portentous, and her frequent use of wordplay and inversion quickly becomes irritating ... But Demuth’s passion for her subject shines through on every page, and her account is enriched by her extensive personal experience in Beringia. Rather than treating the Arctic as a plein-air museum, she shows how death and destruction are essential aspects of life.
... we taste the perspective of someone who’s personally experienced the Arctic as an enfolding abundance, a dynamic system occupied by humans and fluctuating populations of animals ... This is a complex story, seesawing back and forth across the strait. It’s enlivened by sometimes cinematic detail ... In terms of natural processes, [Demuth] is convincing ... Demuth’s treatment of indigenous accounts is a bit too sparse to accomplish something similar. She often uses a sort of cold open technique to introduce Beringian characters ... The man and his biography deserve our attention, yet Demuth makes his story hard to follow, presenting it with clinical remove. Unfamiliar place names, given without context, do little to anchor us in the text. Overly condensed prose prevents us from sensing indigenous life or history deeply enough to change our minds about it ... This is a missed opportunity. For several generations now we have clung to, and been repulsed by, the narrative of invasive humanity. Indigenous peoples have been seen as part of the nature that modern societies have plundered. A kind of defeatedness attends this story line — the last thing we need now. Instead, we have to develop more flexible and hopeful understandings ... In looking to Demuth to enrich my own view of the Arctic, I find myself wishing for more of her own experience there, written in the poetic language of which she’s clearly capable.
Braiding human, animal, and environmental history, the author explores the ways in which the implications of economic ideologies have altered the balance of the natural world in this remote land ... The author’s deeply informed (she spent several years in Beringia) lyrical telling pulls disparate threads together for a powerful environmental message ... A cautionary, instructive tale highly recommended for readers with an interest in environmental conservation.
In this selective look at the natural world found in the two regions, Demuth largely focuses on the history of hunting, starting with commercial whalers who decimated the bowhead whale population, nearly making the species extinct, and illuminating the more mindful Native subsistence hunting for animals including whales, walrus, fox, and caribou ... While there is little here about WWII, which had a major and still-lingering environmental impact on many communities, and no discussion of climate change, Demuth’s research is impressive. Readers curious about the Arctic in general and about environment concerns, as well as those particularly interested in circumpolar or Native history will find this unique take on a key yet overlooked region fascinating.
... lyrical, deeply learned ... One of Demuth’s great contributions is her exploration of the radical history of labor in the remote regions, a history soon supplanted by corporate capitalism on one shore and the gulag on the other, even as new arrivals concentrated their efforts on 'liberating energy' ... The far north has inspired a remarkable body of literature, highlighted, in recent years, by Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams and Lawrence Millman’s At the End of the World. Demuth’s book, based on years of field research and comprehensive study, easily takes its place alongside them ... A superb book, essential reading for students of the once-and-future Arctic.
... detailed, sometimes poetic ... Later sections on how the early 20th-century gold rush in Nome, Alaska, attracted hopefuls from around the world prove equally fascinating. They speak to the complexity of the area in general and to its fascinating legacy, a history Demuth’s authoritative chronicle conveys with both insight and, in an era of climatic peril, urgency.