Twenty-five years ago Philip L. Fradkin read a book about a remote bay on the Gulf of Alaska coast. The noted environmental historian was attracted by the threads of violence woven through the natural and human histories of Lituya Bay. Could these histories be related, and if so, how? The attempt to define the power of this wild place was a tantalizing and, as it turned out, dangerous quest. This compelling and eerie memoir tells of Fradkin's odyssey through recorded human history and eventually to the bay itself, as he explores the dark and unyielding side of nature.
Natural forces have always dominated Lituya Bay. Immense storms, powerful earthquakes, huge landslides, and giant waves higher than the world's tallest skyscrapers pound the whale-shaped fjord. Compelling for its deadly beauty, the bay has attracted visitors over time, but it has never been mastered by them.
Its seasonal occupants throughout recorded history—Tlingit Indians, European explorers, gold miners, and coastal fishermen seeking a harbor of refuge—have drowned, gone mad, slaughtered fur-bearing animals with abandon, sifted the black sand beaches for minute particles of gold, and murdered each other. Only a hermit found peace there. Then the author and his small son visited the bay and were haunted by a grizzly bear.
As an environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times and western editor of Audubon magazine, Fradkin has traveled from Tierra del Fuego to the North Slope of Alaska. But nothing prepared him for Lituya Bay, a place so powerful it turned one person's hair white. This story resonates with echoes of Melville, Poe, and Conrad as it weaves together the human and natural histories of a beautiful and wild place.
II. The Place
III. The Tlingits
IV. The French
V. The Russians
VI. The Americans
VII. The Wave
VIII. The Present
IX. Tomales Bay
Philip L. Fradkin is the author of nine acclaimed books on the American West, including A River No More (California, 1996), The Seven States of California (California, 1997), and Magnitude 8 (California, 1998). He shared a Pulitzer Prize at the Los Angeles Times and was the recipient of a media award from the Sierra Club.
"Reader beware: Fradkin's history of sinisterly beautiful Lituya Bay is to Alaska travelogues as Kubrick's The Shining is to hotel commercials. After finishing this unnerving tale of Tlingit monsters, kilometer-high waves, mystery bears and inexplicable murders, I looked under my bed to make sure the Land Otter Man wasn't lurking there. A gothic tour de force by America's finest environmental journalist."—Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear: Los Angles and the Imagination of Disaster and City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angles
"Philip Fradkin is a master storyteller--and his stories are full of adventure, primordial beauty, violence, and dread. He tells stories of places as well as people, and especially of the power of wild, archaic nature to disrupt or even destroy our power-hungry civilization. His is a compelling voice, warning us never to take the earth and its elemental forces for granted."—Donald Worster, author of Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
"A first-rate piece of travel literature. Nothing that I have read so captures the restless, violent, somber history of this area, from so many perspectives and with such energy and zest. Fradkin draws upon history, ethnology, ethnohistory, and the natural sciences, and creates literature—being personal, opinionated, and readable, all in the best traditions of travel writing."—Malcolm Margolin, Publisher, Heyday Books