A Best Book of the Year as chosen by Nature, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal.
A groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between capitalism, communism, and Arctic ecology since the dawn of the industrial age.
Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.
The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans—the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia—before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?
Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, as well as from archival sources, Demuth shows how the social, the political, and the environmental clashed in this liminal space. Through the lens of the natural world, she views human life and economics as fundamentally about cycles of energy, bringing a fresh and visionary spin to the writing of human history.
Floating Coast is a profoundly resonant tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that immense human needs and ambitions have brought, and will continue to bring, to a finite planet.
About the Author
Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian at Brown University, specializing in the United States and Russia, and in the history of energy and past climates. She has lived in and studied Arctic communities across Eurasia and North America.
Floating Coast is an extraordinary piece of history writing, seamlessly weaving together disparate elements. It is astonishingly rich in ethnographic detail, ecological precision, economic circumstance and historical texture. Most illuminating and original is Demuth’s focus on the circulation of matter—in flesh, on hoof, inside fur and hide, and in buried minerals.
— Sverker Sörlin
This book has unsettled me like no other I’ve recently read…[Floating Coast] is brilliant.
— Lucy Kogler
A brilliant hybrid…Often reminiscent to me of Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams in its combination of rigorous research, intense looking and listening, and its clear ethical vision.
— Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland
Floating Coast is a historian’s Moby Dick, a great white whale of a book that spans centuries and links landscapes, living beings, and the flux of time, into a marvelously readable narrative.
— Amitav Ghosh, author of The Great Derangement
A poetic meditation on the devastations of modernity in the sea, on terra firma, and, eventually, belowground. Whale hunters and reindeer herders, greedy capitalists and utopian planners, hopeful prospectors and raw-material-hungry government bureaucrats appear on the stage in this analytically powerful book, a monument to a people and their land just as much as an allegory of the world we have created.
— Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History
Brilliant, compelling, and beautifully executed…Bathsheba Demuth writes with the poetry and wisdom of the land and the sea, drawing the human-wrought past of a faraway place close to the lives and future of us all.
— Jack E. Davis, author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea
Bathsheba Demuth’s history flows as richly and fluidly as Arctic waters. As she tracks the dynamics of the modernist ecological makeover of the Bering Strait, Demuth is inventing a new form of historical narrative.
— Kate Brown, author of Manual for Survival
In a time when human desire bends so very much of what it encounters to its own image, Bathsheba Demuth's debut encourages us to think about the very physical limits of such a proposition. Easily one of the most innovative and poetic natural histories I have read in years.
— Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore
With her pleasing prose, relentless research, and profound sense of place, Bathsheba Demuth does elegant justice to the social and environmental revolutions that define the modern history of Beringia, and to the stories of indigenous communities and diverse newcomers, of gold rush and gulag, of whales and caribou.
— John McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun
A cautionary, instructive tale highly recommended for readers with an interest in environmental conservation.
A superb book, essential reading for students of the once-and-future Arctic.