The maritime exploits of a suburban housewife … and her sister with a camera

Okay, now that I’ve scared everyone away, I thought I’d share the books I’ve enjoyed about Alaska, to help me understand what I see on my trips.

Travel books:

The Alaska Cruise Handbook – A Mile By Mile Guide; by Joe Upton. Love this and bring it with me on every cruise (especially the huge folded map that usually gets stuck to my cabin wall).  Over 300 great photos, maps and engaging stories trace the route used by most Alaska cruises.  It’s all keyed to a route numbering/navigational system that is frequently announced on board.  And if you go to his website, there are a bunch of short (3-5 minute) videos.

Alaska by Cruise Ship: The Complete Guide to Cruising Alaska; by Anne Vipond. Good information about ports of call – what to see and do. And has a large tear out map.

Lonely Planet Alaska. A good travel guide, with maps, highlights, suggested itineraries, budgets, etc.

Field Guides:

The Nature of Alaska: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions; by James Kavanaugh.  Great preview of wild flora and fauna in the state of Alaska. Well organized, great pictures; highlights more than 325 familiar plants and animals and dozens of the state’s outstanding natural attractions.

Guide to the Birds of Alaska; by Robert H. Armstrong. If you’re a bird watcher, you need this book.  I especially like it because it breaks Alaska down into geographical regions and shows what birds can be found in that region.


Travels in Alaska; by John Muir. (1915). Experiences, reflections and geography that reads like poetry. If you can, find a copy with the original photographs.

Where the Sea Breaks Its Back: The Epic Story of Early Naturalist Georg Steller and the Russian Exploration of Alaska; by Corey Ford. (1966) A great adventure of epic proportions! It includes history, natural history, conservation, seamanship, and even some interesting (and horrible) Russian politics. This is the story of naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who traveled with Vitus Bering (of Bering Strait fame) in 1741-1742 to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Yes, the Steller of Steller’s Jay, Steller’s Sea Lion and Steller’s Sea Cow fame (among many other).

Rescue at the Top of the World: The True Story of the Most Daring Arctic Rescue in History; by Shawn Shallow. (2005) In 1897, nearly the entire American whaling fleet was trapped in pack ice, stranding over 300 men. Three officers from the early U.S. Coast Guard and two missionaries volunteered to travel over 1,500 miles through the Arctic winter to reach the shipwrecked whalers. I can’t even imagine …

Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold-fields; by William Haskell. (1898) This book is a fascinating first-hand account of a two-year trip to the Yukon River valley’s gold fields. Haskell and his best friend/partner set off for Alaska in 1896 (just before the Klondike gold strike). It’s an easy read, part memoir, part field guide. The primitive conditions, personal deprivations, and extremes of environment they experienced are nothing short of incredible.

Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians; by Brian Garfield. (1969) The story of the Japanese invasion of Alaska in 1942.  Not your typical battle/war story. A bit of dry humor and a great narrative style make this an interesting read. (Fact I didn’t know until I read this book: when American and Canadian forces invaded Attu Island to take it back from the Japanese, it was the largest Pacific invasion since Guadelcanel and in terms of casualties as a percentage of troops committed it ranked only behind Iwo Jima.  The reprint (in 1995) includes additional archival material.