The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom: 1879-1960
Harper Collins Books, 2010, 576 pages
In the mid-1950’s, as protection for “Arctic Alaska” loomed, the conservation interests pushing for preservation recognized that, “In the end, the American people would have to demand that Arctic Alaska be saved.” In The Quiet World Douglas Brinkley describes the role beat poets, painters, photographers, film-makers and explorers played in building support in the American public for protecting this place professional biologists and conservation organizations deemed essential for Alaskan wildlife.
Over the last decade, much has been written about opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. This chapter in the North American conservation movement is well known. The claim: opening ANWR to drilling will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce the price of gasoline, and boost the U.S. economy. The cost: the disruption of a fragile environment that is essential habitat for hundreds of species, most notably the breeding grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd.
The current struggles are only one page in the lengthy history of preserving Alaska’s primal lands. Brinkley tells the rest of the story. Beginning with John Muir’s travels to Alaska in 1879-80, and ending with the designation of the 8.9 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range by executive order during the Eisenhower administration in December of 1960, Brinkley traces the history of Wilderness preservation in Alaska.
Chronicling the involvement of a large variety of characters, Brinkley views the advance of the environmental movement by examining technical studies and political shenanigans and telling the tales of naturalists. Both an intellectual treatise on environmental philosophy and a technical examination of the interconnection between species and their habitat, The Quiet World links the wide range of views that ultimately led to the creation of 19.2 million acres of protected lands in Northeastern Alaska (the Carter administration expanded the reserve in 1980).
The Quiet World is an enlightening read for anyone wanting to learn the entire story of the scientific, social and political struggles surrounding the preservation of wildness in Alaska.
Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption
Random House, 2010, 496 pages
Louis Zamperini, the now 94-year-old subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s recent Unbroken, has real-life experiences worthy of a superhero.
After a period of juvenile delinquency in Depression-era California, he channeled his energy into running. He began breaking records and eventually raced in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, with speed so impressive it earned him the notice of Adolf Hitler. When World War II began, Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Forces, serving as a bombardier on the notorious B-24. After his plane went down over the Pacific during a rescue mission, Zamperini and the pilot survived for nearly seven weeks—an unprecedented length of time—during which they battled starvation and dehydration, mental breakdown and injury, all the while plagued by sharks.
On day 47, they were picked up by the Japanese. The succeeding sections are the true crux of the book and focus on the years of sadistic treatment Zamperini endured in Japan’s prisoner of war camps, where he and so many others showed nearly incomprehensible resilience in the face of slave labor, near starvation, disease, and unthinkable abuses at the hands of their captors.
Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit) writes with an evenness and restraint that pair well with Zamperini’s sensational story. The depth of her research is remarkable; Zamperini alone she interviewed some 75 times. And though his story drives the book, perhaps Hillenbrand’s biggest achievement in Unbroken is how skillfully she has pushed the bounds of Zamperini’s narrative to provide context about the world in which he lived. Through her the reader learns the ins and outs of the Army Air Forces in the early years of war, sees a sudden reemergence of the anti-Semitism in Berlin that had been carefully downplayed during the 1936 Olympics, and reads the mini profiles of countless other POWs. The book’s inscription reads, “For the wounded and the lost,” a fitting choice given how well Hillenbrand has honored not only the remarkable Zamperini, but also the unbreakable spirits of so many of his generation.