The best books with Alaska first-person accounts

Why am I passionate about this?

I wanted to visit Alaska since high school. It took me a couple of decades to make good on the urge, but I have made numerous trips. Alaska has everything I have always loved about Colorado, but in superlatives. From a historical standpoint, Alaska means mountains, mining, and railroads, exactly what I have written about in the lower forty-eight. Outdoors, there has never been any place that makes me happier than climbing mountains or rafting rivers. Spend two weeks in the Brooks Range with just one buddy without seeing another human and one comes to understand the land—and appreciate stories from people who do, too! 


I wrote...

Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land

By Walter R. Borneman,

Book cover of Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land

What is my book about?

Bradford Washburn, the dean of Alaskan mountaineering and exploration, has called my history of Alaska “just plain terrific.” It is a riveting account of Alaska from prehistoric migrations to Russian fur traders to the Gold Rush, extraordinary railroads, the oil boom, and the fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Alaska’s history is filled with stories of new lands and new riches—and ever present are new people with competing views over how its resources should be used. Some want Alaska to remain static, others are in the vanguard of change, but Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land shows there are no easy answers. According to the Anchorage Chronicle, “This is the most accessible of all the Alaska histories.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Two in the Far North: A Conservation Champion's Story of Life, Love, and Adventure in the Wilderness

Walter R. Borneman Why did I love this book?

Before “Mardie” Murie became the guardian of America’s conservation conscience, she was a young bride traveling halfway across Alaska to marry a man she barely knew. Together Olaus and Mardie Murie lived a wilderness life always awed by the landscape and its wild inhabitants. Did things “change with children?” she was once asked. “No," Mardie smiled sweetly, “we just took them with us.”

This is the Muries’ story from those early years through their travels in the Arctic National Wildlife Area (ANWR) and support for the Wilderness Act. I first read this book long before I battled mosquitoes on the Koyukuk River, as they had on their honeymoon, and hiked up Double Mountain above their 1956 camp on the Sheenjak. Hosting Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas that summer, their joint efforts led to the creation of ANWR.

By Margaret E. Murie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Two in the Far North as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

A Northern classic and beloved favorite, Two in the Far North chronicles the incredible story of Margaret "Mardy" Murie, called the Grandmother of the Conservation Movement, and how she became one of the first women to embrace and champion wilderness conservation in America.

At the age of nine, Margaret Murie moved from Seattle to Fairbanks, not realizing the trajectory life would take her from there. This moving testimonial to the preservation of the Arctic wilderness comes straight from her heart as she writes about growing up in Fairbanks, becoming the first woman graduate…


Book cover of Alaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range

Walter R. Borneman Why did I love this book?

Wilderness guru Bob Marshall and I share at least one thing in common: despite several attempts, neither of us succeeded in climbing Mount Doonerak, the sentinel rising above the North Fork of the Koyukuk. I have traveled that country around the Gates of the Arctic multiple times, but I remain in awe of Marshall’s pioneering trips during the 1930s when the area was generally unknown and unmapped. 

Marshall’s account is part history, part adventure, and part human-interest story as he teamed up with interesting characters like Ernie Johnson after whom he named Ernie Creek. The two always managed to feast on Dall sheep. And it was Marshall who named the Gates of the Arctic. For those who can’t travel first-hand through what is still wilderness, Bob Marshall remains an enjoyable armchair guide.

By Robert Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alaska Wilderness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Exploring the great wilderness of Alaska's Brooks Range was Robert Marshall's joy and delight during the decade between 1929 and 1939. Marshall traveled this spectacular country, from the Upper Koyukuk drainage to the Arctic Divide, making maps, recording scientific data, and exalting in the beauty of that incredibly pristine landscape. Although his early death at thirty-eight ended an exceptional life too early, he left journals and letters to describe his favorite place on earth. These were edited by his brother George Marshall and were compiled to create this classic of environmental literature, now in its third edition after nearly fifty…


Book cover of Minus 148 Degrees: First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley

Walter R. Borneman Why did I love this book?

Mountaineering is at the core of Alaska’s history. Many books—old and new—chronicle amazing exploits throughout the state; however, at all levels of audacity, tragedy, a bit of luck, and ultimate triumph, the first winter ascent of North America’s highest summit rises to the top of the heap. Art Davidson’s writing is as gripping as the story itself. 

In 1967, a summer ascent of what is called by its Athabascan name, Denali, was still considered unusual; any winter attempt was judged suicidal. Three team members reached the top only to have their lives hang in the balance on the descent. Originally, published soon after the climb, Minus 148˚ has remained in print for more than fifty years, a testament to its staying power, just like that of Art Davidson and his two companions.

By Art Davidson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Minus 148 Degrees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of National Geographic Adventure's "The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time", this is the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount McKinley. The new edition includes a revised preface, new prologue and new afterword describing more recent winter attempts on McKinley. In 1967 eight men attempted North America's highest summit: Mount McKinley (now known as Denali) that had been climbed before - but never in winter. Plagued by doubts and cold, group tension and a crevasse tragedy, the expedition tackled McKinley in minimal hours of daylight and fierce storms. They were trapped at three different camps above…


Book cover of Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor: The Extraordinary Autobiography of Jay Hammond Wilderness Guide and Reluctant Politician

Walter R. Borneman Why did I love this book?

Alaska’s politics have always been a blood sport, in part because participants are usually down-to-earth, no-nonsense Alaskans bound and determined to do what they think is right no matter the consequences—even if it costs them an election. 

A former Marine pilot with the famed “Black Sheep” squadron, Jay Hammond came north as a bush pilot and at statehood in 1959 was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives. His self-deprecating accounts of the political battles of the next quarter of a century, including the Permanent Fund, are sure to bring more than a chuckle. I once looked out an aircraft window to see a small plane upside down on a dirt runway at Hamond’s homestead some miles from Port Alsworth. Inquiring, I was told, “Oh, don't worry, Jay’s fine; he just bounced on a bad landing.”

By Jay S. Hammond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The former governor of Alaska recounts his childhood, education, war experiences, and political career


Book cover of The Hard Way Home: Alaska Stories of Adventure, Friendship, and the Hunt

Walter R. Borneman Why did I love this book?

There are many books recounting living the wilderness lifestyle in Alaska. At the top of the list is probably Dick Proenecke’s One Man’s Wilderness. But The Hard Way Home deserves to be there, too. Steve Kahn has an engaging personal writing style that makes you think you are sitting by the fire in his cabin listening to his tales. 

And there are some whoppers: from boating on Lake Clark in imprenatrable fog to tramping the hillsides in search of Dall sheep, to being forced to walk miles through an unexpected autumn snowfall to be flown out from a hunt. Remembering idyllic summers at Farewell Lake to the horrors of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and much in between, Kahn writes like a guy who knows the real Alaska.

By Steve Kahn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hard Way Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A lifelong Alaskan, Steve Kahn moved at the age of nine from the "metropolis" of Anchorage to the foothills of the Chugach Mountains. A childhood of berry picking, fishing, and hunting led to a life as a big-game guide. When he wasn't guiding in the spring and fall, he worked as a commercial fisherman and earned his pilot's license, pursuits that took him to the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness. He lived through some of the most important moments in the state's history: the 1964 earthquake (the most powerful in U.S. history), the Farewell Burn wildfire, the last king…


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Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

Book cover of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

Mark Doherty Author Of Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a highly experienced outdoorsman, musician, songwriter, and backcountry guide who chose teaching as a day job. As a writer, however, I am a promoter of creative and literary nonfiction, especially nonfiction that features a thematic thread, whether it be philosophical, conservation, historical, or even unique experiential. The thread I used for thirty years of teaching high school and honors English was the thread of Conservation, as exemplified by authors like Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Al Gore, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many other more contemporary authors.

Mark's book list on creative nonfiction books that entertain and teach through threaded essays and stories

What is my book about?

I have woven numerous delightful and descriptive true life stories, many from my adventures as an outdoorsman and singer songwriter, into my life as a high school English teacher. I think you'll find this work both entertaining as well as informative, and I hope you enjoy the often lighthearted repartee and dialogue that enhances the stories and experiences.

When I started teaching in the early 1990s, I brought into the classroom with me my passions for nature, folk music, and creativity. This book holds something new and engaging with every chapter and can be enjoyed by all sorts of readers, particularly those who enjoy nonfiction that employs wit, wisdom, humor, and even some down-to-earth philosophy.

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration

By Mark Doherty,

What is this book about?

Creativity, Teaching, and Natural Inspiration follows the evolution of a high school English teacher as he develops a creative and innovative teaching style despite being juxtaposed against a public education system bent on didactic, normalizing regulations and political demands. Doherty crafts an engaging nonfiction story that utilizes memoir, anecdote, poetry, and dialogue to explore how mixing creativity and pedagogy can change the way budding students visualize creative writing: A chunk of firewood plunked on a classroom table becomes part of a sawmill, a mine timber, an Anasazi artifact...it also becomes a poem, a song, an essay, and a memoir. The…


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