Summary and book reviews of Tip of the Iceberg by Mark Adams

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
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a fascinating and funny journey into Alaska, America's last frontier, retracing the historic 1899 Harriman Expedition.

In 1899, railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman organized a most unusual summer voyage to the wilds of Alaska: He converted a steamship into a luxury "floating university," populated by some of America's best and brightest scientists and writers, including the anti-capitalist eco-prophet John Muir. Those aboard encountered a land of immeasurable beauty and impending environmental calamity. More than a hundred years later, Alaska is still America's most sublime wilderness, both the lure that draws a million tourists annually on Inside Passage cruises and a natural resources larder waiting to be raided. As ever, it remains a magnet for weirdos and dreamers.

Armed with Dramamine and an industrial-strength mosquito net, Mark Adams sets out to retrace the 1899 expedition. Using the state's intricate public ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway System, Adams travels three thousand miles, following the George W. Elder's itinerary north through Wrangell, Juneau, and Glacier Bay, then continuing west into the colder and stranger regions of the Aleutians and the Arctic Circle. Along the way, he encounters dozens of unusual characters (and a couple of very hungry bears) and investigates how lessons learned in 1899 might relate to Alaska's current struggles in adapting to climate change.

CHAPTER TWO
All Points North
NEW YORK CITY

Next to the cluttered desk in my office, I keep a small collection of manila folders labeled with the names of destinations I would like to write about one day. Inside each folder are scraps of paper—bar napkins covered in semi-legible hieroglyphics and yellowed newspaper clippings pertaining to a particular place. In the folder marked ALASKA there's a piece of hotel stationery on which I scribbled something an Alaskan friend once told me. Three basic types of people live in Alaska, he said. There are the Native Alaskans, who've been there since time immemorial. There are people who have come north running toward something, usually a chance to do something unpleasant to make a lot of money quickly, such as gutting fish twelve hours a day or operating a welding torch in minus-forty-degree temperatures. And there are those who are running away from something, like a bad marriage or fluoridated water.

...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 recommended the book, especially for armchair travelers and those interested in the history and nature of this unique land.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (736 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist
Tourists will certainly enjoy reading about both the past and the present, and the breezy, self-deprecating tone makes for an obvious vacation diversion.

Library Journal
Recommended for general readers interested in Alaska's environment and history.

Kirkus Reviews
Simultaneously uplifting, inspiring, and dispiriting.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Adams gives readers an eye-opening look at the past and present history of a fascinating region.

Author Blurb Susan Casey, author of Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins
Whether you've already fallen in love with Alaska, or simply intend to in the future, Tip of the Iceberg was written for you. Mark Adams is an adventurous traveler's ideal guide to the breathtaking natural history - and colorful human history - of one of America's most fascinating corners.

Author Blurb Candice Millard, author of Hero of the Empire
With Tip of the Iceberg, Mark Adams gave me, in spades, what I always hope to find in a book: the chance to effortlessly learn something extraordinary. I was constantly laughing, shaking my head in astonishment, and trying to slow down so I wouldn't finish it too fast. Some of my favorite people show up in this book, from John Muir to John Burroughs, but Adams himself may be the most unforgettable character.

Author Blurb Sam Kean, author of Caesar's Last Breath
Tip of the Iceberg radiates a warmth we don't usually associate with up north. Adams finds nuggets of gold everywhere, and spins a story as expansive as Alaska itself.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Kodiak Bear

In Tip of the Iceberg, author Mark Adams sets out to follow in the footsteps of Edward Harriman's 1899 expedition to Alaska. Harriman's expedition is remembered for the important scientific findings gathered by the more than thirty scientists, artists and writers who accompanied him, but for Harriman himself, the focus was primarily on hunting bear. He eventually bagged his prize – a female Kodiak bear on Kodiak Island, much to the disgust of fellow traveler John Muir.

The Kodiak bear was identified as a unique subspecies of grizzly bear (aka "brown bear") by C. Hart Merriam, another member of the Harriman expedition, in 1896. They are the largest of the brown bears; an average male ("boar") stands five feet at the shoulder (10 ...

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