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.