Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

BookBrowse Reviews Tip of the Iceberg by Mark Adams

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Tip of the Iceberg

My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier

by Mark Adams

Tip of the Iceberg by Mark Adams X
Tip of the Iceberg by Mark Adams
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2018, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2019, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A fascinating and funny journey into Alaska, America's last frontier, retracing the historic 1899 Harriman Expedition.

In the late 19th century, railroad magnate Edward Harriman decided he needed a break from his business concerns, which were having a detrimental effect on his health. He concluded a vacation was in order, and, being an avid hunter, he planned to take his family to Alaska so he could hunt bear.

Also being immensely wealthy, the man decided that rather than simply travel for pleasure he would fund a full-blown expedition to the far north as part of his travels, one which would include dozens of the most knowledgeable naturalists of his day. The SS George W. Elder was commissioned, re-fitted to Harriman's specs, and subsequently left Seattle for Alaska on May 31, 1899 with a team of luminaries aboard, its two-month voyage intended to document the state's geography and environment. Almost 120 years later, travel writer Mark Adams set off on his own journey to Alaska, intent on following the Harriman party's footsteps. Tip of the Iceberg compares the Harriman expedition's experiences to his own.

The first few chapters focus primarily on the 1899 trip, describing Harriman and the others who were aboard. It's astonishing to think that a private individual would be willing to underwrite such a major undertaking, recruiting a veritable who's-who of America's most famous naturalists to participate. These included John Muir, creator of the Sierra Club and an expert on glaciers and George Bird Grinnell, who as editor of the influential Forest and Stream magazine and founder of the Audubon Society was "arguably the most respected outdoorsman in the country." Also on board were C. Hart Merriam, the co-founder of the National Geographic Society; Henry Gannett, whose "brilliant innovations in geography led him to be known as 'the Father of American Map Making,'" and a whole host of other well-known scientists, artists, photographers and writers. This multi-disciplinary team mapped unknown fjords and glaciers, discovered new plant and animal species, and documented what remained of the native cultures in the area. They were also one of the first groups of people to identify the need for conservation of Alaskan resources, such as its salmon and seal populations.

Gradually, Adams turns the focus away from this historical venture to his own trip, a part of the narrative that I found much more entertaining. He has a gift for describing scenes so vividly they made me want to visit the areas he explored:

Our two-person kayak skimmed the surface of Glacier Bay's glassy water, the bow pointed like a compass needle at the rocky lump of Russell Island. The sun was out, always a pleasant surprise in Southeast Alaska, and a light mist lingered around the island's upper half. We'd been paddling for about an hour, but I had no idea how far we'd come or how far we had left to go. My sense of scale hadn't yet acclimated to the vastness we'd entered—water, sky, and mountains were all I had to work with. Aside from the splash of our paddles and the occasional tap-tapping of sea otters cracking open mussels, all was quiet.

Adams also introduces the quirky individuals he meets in his travels, such as Nome mayor Richard Beneville, "a chatty, gay, ex-alcoholic liberal" whose previous career included performing in off-Broadway musicals; as well as "Robert," who doesn't want his name used because he "transacted much of his business in gold and considered the Internal Revenue Service illegitimate." The author is also adept at conveying the dangers he ran into, primarily due to bears and bad weather. Most notably, Adams narrates all his experiences with a sense of humor.

Although several sections are devoted to a discussion of climate change and Adams does subscribe to the belief that increasing world temperatures are human-caused, the book isn't a manifesto. Indeed, the author points out that the glaciers had already begun receding in John Muir's day (the scientist was unable to use maps from 1794 because the landscape was so different, the glaciers having withdrawn over 40 miles in the interval). Adams also mentions that while climate change will have dire impacts in many cases, some regions may see benefits, counterbalanced by negatives.

Tip of the Iceberg is one of the better travelogues I've read in recent years. It vibrantly conveys Alaska's sights and describes Adams' own encounters there with insight and humor. I highly recommend the book, especially for armchair travelers and those interested in the history and nature of this unique land.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2018, and has been updated for the July 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Kodiak Bear

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Bewilderment
    by Richard Powers
    In 2019, Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory, a sprawling novel whose characters...
  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, a new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.
Who Said...

If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.