SCIENCES

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

Norton. Aug. 2019. 416p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393635164. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393635171. NAT HIST
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Demuth (environmental history, Brown Univ.) takes readers through the last two centuries of life in Beringia, a place at the edge of the Arctic Circle, composed of fingers of Russian and Alaskan land that nearly touch across the Bering Strait. 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. Beginning with whaling in the 19th century, both the capitalist cultures of the West and the imperialist, and then socialist cultures of Russia consumed resources to excess. Whether to meet the bottom line or the five-year plan, they adversely impacted the Native peoples, the animals on which those people depended for survival, and the minerals and rock buried in the land. As each energy form was harvested and used, human ideals came up against the limits of nature, leaving devastation behind. The author’s deeply informed (she spent several years in Beringia) lyrical telling pulls disparate threads together for a powerful environmental message.
VERDICT A cautionary, instructive tale highly recommended for readers with an interest in environmental conservation.

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