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A groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between humans and the natural world where two great economic ideologies converge.
Along the Bering Strait, through the territories of the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia, Bathsheba Demuth explores an ecosystem that has long sustained human beings. Yet when Americans and Europeans arrived with self-serving ideas of human progress, the Chukchi and Seward Peninsulas and surrounding waters became the site of a historical experiment. Here, the great modern ideologies of production and consumption, capitalism and communism, were subject to the pressures of Arctic scarcity.
Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through these resources Demuth draws a vivid portrait of the sweeping effects of turning ecological wealth into economic growth and state power over the past century and a half. More urgent in a warming climate, and as we seek new economic ideas for a postindustrial age, Floating Coast delivers necessary warnings and poses provocative questions about human desires and needs in relation to environmental sustainability.
Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian at Brown University, specializing in the United States and Russia, and in the history of energy and animals. She has lived in and studied Arctic communities across Eurasia and North America.
– Longlisted for the 2020 Cundill History Prize and named a best book of the year by Nature, NPR, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.
"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
"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
"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
"This first-ever popular history of the Bering Strait poses questions that will only grow more important in a warming climate: it explores how animals, plants, natural landscapes, and human beings responded as capitalism and communism demanded that they serve ideas of human progress. Demuth's research in Inupiat, Yupik, and Chukchi communities shows care and rigor, but it is the poetry of her writing that tends to come up first in recommendations and reviews."
– Hilah Kohen, Meduza
"[Floating Coast] 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."
– Genevieve Valentine, NPR
"A cautionary, instructive tale highly recommended for readers with an interest in environmental conservation."
– Library Journal (starred review)
"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 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
"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
"This book has unsettled me like no other I've recently read [...] [Floating Coast] is brilliant."
– Lucy Kogler , Literary Hub
"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, Nature
"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. [...] 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."
– Sophie Pinkham , New York Review of Books
"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
"A superb book, essential reading for students of the once-and-future Arctic."
– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)