Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

by Bathsheba Demuth

Paperback, 2020

Call number

NWC 508.3113 DEM


W. W. Norton & Company (2020), Edition: Reprint, 448 pages


"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 an 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"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Tytania
I am so glad I read this. I don't have any particular interest in the Bering Strait, but this wasn't a typical history. Demuth is an exquisitely thoughtful writer. Her "environmental history" is what I would call spiritual.

The book is not devoid of historical facts and narratives. Frankly, much of
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it could even be a bit of a slog. In chronicling "Beringia", the land masses which border the Bering Strait, Demuth covers both USA and USSR history. After a while, reading about the fox farming and reindeer farming booming, then crashing, then booming; the quotas on whales being this high, then that low, then this high again... could really put me into a lull.

But when Demuth is poetic, she is sublime. Most of these moments came towards the beginning and towards the end. Tastes:

"[T]he world is not what we make of it; it is part of what makes us: our flesh and bones, and also our inclinations and hopes."

"An ecosystem is the aggregate of many species' habits of transformation, their ways of moving energy from its origin in the sun across space & condensing it over time. To be alive is to take a place in a chain of conversions."

"We all live in more than one time... The evidence is all around us, in the layered world: a mossy, decaying mission store in Gambell, built near an ancient whale-butchering place, across from a row of tidy new homes... [A] house with Soviet concrete walls, but a roof made of walrus hide so fresh, it smelled."


"Fossil fuels freed the use of energy from human toil, allowing human history to seem separate from the rest of time... This made possible a new idea of liberty, released from the constraints of the matter that made us, and from the precariousness of being."

That does sum up for me where we find ourselves.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
History of the peoples and animals in the Arctic area claimed by Russia and the US via Alaska. There’s a lot of slaughter as both Soviet and capitalist ideas about what whales etc. were for left very little room for relations that were reciprocal and extending indefinitely.


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