Flashback Friday: Alaska by James Michener

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Alaska by James Michener

(published 1988)

From Goodreads:

Master storyteller James Michener reveals Alaska in all its awesome, sweeping majesty. From the near-forgotten past, to the highly technological present, from self-defense to self-determination, here are the men and women who tried to tame the land, seize its bounty, and lay claim to the elusive spirit that holds native and visitor spellbound. A stirring portrait of a human community living on the edge of the world, ALASKA claims a bold heritage of survival against all odds.

I’ve come to really appreciate preparing for travel by reading fiction about my destination — and reading James Michener may just be the pinnacle of travel/historical fiction. In books such as Alaska, Michener goes back — way, way back — to the geological events that led to the land mass formations that became known as Alaska, and traces every major event since, including mastadons, migration of native peoples, invaders of all stripes, and the US purchase and eventual statehood. Not many authors can pull off a novel that covers literally millions of years of history and at the same time makes the reader care deeply about the diverse cast of characters met along the way, but Michener is a pro.

I first read Michener’s Alaska almost ten years ago while eagerly anticipating an Alaskan cruise, and I’ll tell you — it was perfect. I went on my trip feeling like I was visiting familiar territory, and got such a thrill from visits to the Yukon pass where gold seekers climbed and a stop in Sitka, site of early Russian colonization.

Way back when, this is what I wrote about Alaska on Goodreads:

James Michener’s Alaska is an exhaustive — and exhausting — primer on Alaskan history, filtered through the lens of fiction. As an alternative to reading a stuffy old history book, this Alaska has a lot to offer: colorful characters (some historical, some fictional), dramatic landscapes, momentous occasions, and far-reaching human drama. On the down side, if you’re looking for actual historical facts, they’re here — but you have to go looking for them. While Michener does provide notes detailing fictional vs non-fictional elements, it leaves the reader guessing from time to time whether he’s presenting an example of what might have happened, or something that actually occurred. In true Michener fashion, the books starts with the geological underpinnings of the area, billions of years ago, and moves forward in time to include mastadons and woolly mammoths before finally reaching the first human settlers. The book is entertaining, jam-packed with facts and figures, and illustrates historic times by focusing on the individuals who lived through them. I would recommend Alaska to anyone interested in gaining an overview of the state’s history… although I must be honest and state that the first word that occurred to me when I reached the last page (page 1073!) was “finally!”

Overall — and despite the fact that the book does include a chapter told from the point of view of a salmon (really!) — I remember enjoying Alaska quite a bit, despite the length. It felt like a task to read, but in the end I took away so much from it. Incidentally, I used this approach several years earlier and read Michener’s Hawaii before my first visit to the islands, and thought it was phenomenal.

Final bit of disclosure: Why am I highlighting Alaska today? Because that’s where I’m headed! I’m off for a week’s adventure with my lovely and wonderful daughter, heading off for a road trip from Fairbanks to Denali to Seward and assorted points in between. I’m so excited for our trip, and even more excited to spend a whole week on vacation with my daughter!

Happy Flashback Friday!

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!


Do you host a blog hop or book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

6 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Alaska by James Michener

  1. I too feel compelled to keep on reading Michener’s long books because by the time you get to the end, usually over 1,000 pages later, you’re glad you didn’t skip anything. I think everyone should read his The World is my Home.

    • I don’t know that one! Will have to go check it out, though. 🙂 I’ve also really enjoyed Sayonara and Space, and I have a copy of Journey sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Are you any relation??

      • The World is my Home is the story of his life. It begins humbly in Pennsylvania with my Michener cousins but as he explains, he isn’t related by blood. As usual, he spends too long in parts of the story but you will be fascinated with the depth of his involvement in world affairs. I am trying to get psyched up to tackle Poland after enjoying Chesapeake and Caribbean.

        • Thanks for the reply and the information! How wonderful that you have that connection! I will definitely read more by him… and hope my future travels take me to some of the places he’s written about!

  2. Interesting book! I try to read related books about the places I’m going to before I travel but I always seem to forget; I guess I’m too busy flailing with exciting to do so, lol. But this title sounds very extensive on Alaska; will definitely have to pick this title up when I head out there one of these days 🙂

    Hope you have a lovely trip with your daughter Lisa! 🙂

    • Thanks! I’m so excited — for the trip and to see my daughter! I really do find that fiction adds to my enjoyment of a new place. When I went to Rome and Florence during college, I read The Agony and the Ecstasy along the way and it made me appreciate everything I saw so much more!

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