The best books about Alaska

11 authors have picked their favorite books about Alaska and why they recommend each book.

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Coming Into the Country

By John McPhee,

Book cover of Coming Into the Country

Regarding the Alaska portion of my life, I arrived after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 and after Prudhoe Bay oil started flowing through the pipeline on June 20, 1977. Because Coming into the Country was published in 1976, the book gives us a timely account of the nation’s Last Frontier before the Settlement Act and big oil changed everything from the villages of the bush to urban Alaska. By the time everything changed again with the Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 24, 1989, I was a full-bore Alaskan who had worked my way up the tenure track at the university in Anchorage.


Who am I?

When I left Wisconsin and arrived for a position at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I was struck by the state’s nearly manic fear of low prices for the oil flowing from Prudhoe Bay through the Alaska (or North Slope) oil pipeline. Years later I returned to Wisconsin and quickly learned that there was relatively little interest in a pipeline that ran down the entire state in the manner of the Alaska pipeline. Only this pipeline carried synthetic crude made from natural asphalt hacked or melted out of the ground in Alberta, Canada. My interest in the environmental and political aspects of that pipeline set me on the path to a book about asphalt.


I wrote...

Asphalt: A History

By Kenneth O'Reilly,

Book cover of Asphalt: A History

What is my book about?

The asphalt on approximately 94 percent of paved roads in the United States has a chemical cousin in the oil sands (or tar sands) of Alberta, Canada. Oil companies are converting that natural asphalt (called bitumen in Canada) into synthetic crude oil ("syncrude") or diluting it with chemicals ("dilbit") so it can ship south via pipeline through Wisconsin and into storage tanks in Illinois. Refineries are the end destination. Gasoline is the end product. 

Global warming imagery has the earth bleeding co2 and consumed by God knows what. Wildfire and rising sea? War and famine? Pandemic now and pandemic from now on? Asphalt helped shape our environment in so many ways. Now, it might help destroy our environment in one simple way.

Nights of Ice

By Spike Walker,

Book cover of Nights of Ice

Spike Walker is another writer that has inspired me. Working at sea in Alaska is to tempt fate amid the savage spectacle of nature in raw form. Men are trapped on boats for weeks and even months. Even a safe journey can drive men to the edge. However, in Alaska, disaster can arise at moment’s notice—and often does. Walker tells Alaska sea stories better than anyone. In Nights of Ice, he shares seven amazing stories of disaster and survival. The stories come alive, as Walker has worked on the edge himself. Now he tells some of the greatest Alaskan sea stories ever.

Who am I?

I have worked and lived at sea for months at a time, and I have many memories of the sea, good and bad. I have lived through extreme Alaskan storms, fished in remote coves, and worked beyond exhaustion over and over. Working at sea taught me some important lessons about life and the possibility of sudden death. I experienced the romance of the sea from a young age, and it has inspired my writing.  


I wrote...

Hostile Takedown

By Roger Weston,

Book cover of Hostile Takedown

What is my book about?

CIA Director Will Harlock has a secret: Working off-the-books, using the CIA as a cover and also working from an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, he reigns over the Firm--the smallest, most elite, and most secret intelligence organization in the world. With a handful of eclectic agents, he oversees an operation to discover what is behind a secret cargo that poses huge danger to the public. America’s future is at stake. Will America survive—or will it crash and burn like the Roman Empire?

A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast

By Hudson Stuck,

Book cover of A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

The oldest of my choices, published in 1920, this classic account of an epic 2,000-mile dogsled journey in northern Alaska, written by an Episcopal missionary, still makes lists of the best books about the 49th state. A masterpiece of adventure and ethnography, with lyrical descriptions of nature, A Winter Circuit is the work of a man not only deeply and widely read about polar exploration and the history of the Far North, but also keenly aware of the social forces bearing down on Alaska’s Native peoples, and eager to support and defend their time-honed way of life.


Who am I?

As an avid trail-runner and mountain-biker who’s done a ton of outdoorsy things, from sailboat racing on the Chesapeake Bay to rockclimbing to backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, I’m convinced that nothing gets you closer to someone’s experience than a well-told first-person account. The best personal narratives make you feel the cold, glow with the exhilaration, and burn with ambition to go, to do, to see for yourself — and can even make you look at the world, and yourself, in a new way. These books, different as they are, have all done those things for me.


I wrote...

A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

By Patrick Dean,

Book cover of A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak

What is my book about?

In A Window to Heaven, Patrick Dean brings to life this heart-pounding and spellbinding feat of this first ascent and paints a rich portrait of the frontier at the turn of the twentieth century. The story of Stuck and his team will lead us through the Texas frontier and Tennessee mountains to an encounter with Jack London at the peak of the Yukon Goldrush. We experience Stuck's awe at the rich Inuit and Athabascan indigenous traditions—and his efforts to help preserve these ways of life.

Filled with daring exploration and rich history, A Window to Heaven is a brilliant and spellbinding narrative of success against the odds.

Badd Motherf*cker

By Jasinda Wilder,

Book cover of Badd Motherf*cker

Nothing wrong with a little bit of erotica. This one not only has one of the best titles of any book ever, it also has its tongue jammed firmly in its cheek. When your inciting incident is a jilted bride walking into a bar in Alaska, in her wedding dress—a bar that happens to be owned by eight brothers, one of whom is named Sebastian Badd– You know you're in for a good time.

Who am I?

Jackson Ford is the author of The Frost Files series, including The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind and Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air. He may or may not be the alter ego of author Rob Boffard, a South African author based in Vancouver, but he is definitely 100% a jackass.

I wrote...

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

By Jackson Ford,

Book cover of The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

What is my book about?

Teagan Frost is having a hard time keeping it together. Sure, she's got telekinetic powers - a skill that the government is all too happy to make use of, sending her on secret break-in missions that no ordinary human could carry out. But all she really wants to do is kick back, have a beer, and pretend she's normal for once.

But then a body turns up at the site of her last job -- murdered in a way that only someone like Teagan could have pulled off. She's got 24 hours to clear her name. If she can't unravel the conspiracy in time, her hometown of Los Angeles will be in the crosshairs of an underground battle that's on the brink of exploding.

Bo at Ballard Creek

By Kirkpatrick Hill, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Book cover of Bo at Ballard Creek

I first discovered this little gem of a book while researching a historical fiction novel of my own. Set in the 1920s, it’s about a little orphan girl named Bo who's being raised by two rough and tumble gold miners—both men. It’s a fun and exciting adventure story, while at the same time providing an insightful and authentic look at life after the famous Alaska gold rush. A perfect read for ages 8-12. 


Who am I?

I've been book obsessed since I was nine years old and always seemed to gravitate toward realistic stories about animals—especially dogs—and kids facing tough times. So when I became an author, those were naturally the same type of stories I wanted to write. So far I’ve penned seven middle-grade novels. All the books in this list provided inspiration to my own writing in one way or the other and helped me to become a more compassionate and empathetic storyteller. I hope you find the same joy and inspiration when you read them. 


I wrote...

A Million Ways Home

By Dianna Dorisi Winget,

Book cover of A Million Ways Home

What is my book about?

When her Grandma Beth ends up in the hospital after a stroke, twelve-year-old Poppy Parker realizes she has to come up with a plan that will get their life together back to normal. Somehow. But how is she supposed to do that when there's a robber seeking to shut her up for good?

Frightened, but refusing to give up, Poppy soon ends up in the most unusual witness protection program ever: she'll be temporarily staying with the lead detective's mother. Poppy starts feeling almost at home. She even makes sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie, and happily befriends Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain future. It's time for new plans now. Get Grandma Beth back home. Don't let the robber catch her. With Lizzie's help, save Gunner's life.

The Raven's Gift

By Don Rearden,

Book cover of The Raven's Gift

Don Reardon crafts a tale of utter isolation and deprivation. Set in a remote Alaskan village that is suddenly and remorselessly struck with a virulent and deadly strain of influenza or some other similar malady. Quarantined from the rest of Alaska and the world, most of the inhabitants die from the illness leaving the survivors the grim, brutal task of surviving by whatever means possible. With no food coming into the village and winter firmly set upon them, living or dying becomes a question of what people are willing to do for and to one another.

Who am I?

I have a passion for the written word and the art of storytelling. Though I’m not a fatalist, I’ve had a lifelong interest in stories and films about cataclysm and apocalyptic tales, regardless of scale. Films like Poseidon’s Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and all of the both good and bad zombie movies the years have produced were mainstays in my childhood. Seeing how ordinary people responded to extraordinary circumstances to overcome and sometimes succumb to their frailties have been driving influences for me. I try to reflect that point of view through the characters in my novels. I think those moments have a way of defining our own humanity.

I wrote...

Infection: Alaskan Undead Apocalypse

By Sean Schubert,

Book cover of Infection: Alaskan Undead Apocalypse

What is my book about?

When calamity strikes and the only two land routes out of Anchorage are cut, the city becomes a trap. The sleepy, unsuspecting residents of Alaska’s largest city become tragically aware of this fact when an ancient plague is unleashed in their midst.

Infection follows groups of survivors that include men, women, and children who struggle to retain both their lives and their humanity in the face of what could be the end of the world at the cold, ruthless hands of the undead.

Sam's Folly

By Carmen Desousa,

Book cover of Sam's Folly

This story has a great combination of romance and suspense and action. You gotta love Sam, who's just trying to keep his family's rescue organization going and has such strong loyalty toward his family. And Nora's courageous and feisty, just trying to survive from a dangerous situation. Carmen’s books are low on the explicit and violence/gore scale, which is perfect when you want to go on a ride without all of the extraneous cursing and whatnot. 


Who am I?

I love the combination of action and romance and suspense. It’s a real juggle as an author to balance the two main elements (suspense and romance mostly), give each depth and page time, and make us care about the people both in love and in peril. I’ve always been drawn to suspense, even as a kid. But I gotta have the relationships, too. I used to direct plays with my childhood friends, and there were always bad guys and the romance—and this was long before I was thinking of having a real romance!


I wrote...

Wild Lies (Justiss Alliance)

By Tina Wainscott,

Book cover of Wild Lies (Justiss Alliance)

What is my book about?

Rathmusen Blackwood, aka Rath, rode off on his Harley after a SEAL team mission went deadly wrong and the media dubbed his unit “Rogue Six.” He needs to find the truth and avenge his comrades...and himself. The mole who fed the U.S. lethally false information is hiding in cartel territory in Mexico, so Rath breaks into the secluded house where intel says Dan is staying.

Instead, he finds Dan’s beautiful daughter, Neesa, who’s risking her life to find her father. Rath looks more like a narco than he does an agent, but he proves himself capable when she’s attacked. They follow Dan’s trail, and as their secrets come to light they are drawn deeper into mystery, danger, and a love neither could have imagined…

Lost Mountain

By Anne Coray,

Book cover of Lost Mountain

Although I happen to know that poet Anne Coray intended this to be an environmentalist novel (a town threatened with doom by a giant mining operation), this beautifully written story set in the fictitious town of Lost Mountain in remote Western Alaska is an example of how Alaskans come together in the face of threats to the beauty and natural wonder of our great land. It may be about the land, but it is the cast of quirky characters that makes it human. 


Who am I?

I have lived in Alaska for forty years, working both as a construction worker and a college professor. I love Alaska, but not always the way it is depicted, particularly on reality TV. I hope the characters I create and the stories I tell will bring a more balanced view of everyday Alaskans, who are, after all, Americans too. The Hunger of Crows shows small-town Alaska through the eyes of four characters: two lifelong Alaskans, and two “from Outside” as we say here. Hopefully, it will provide a balanced view of this great place.


I wrote...

The Hunger of Crows

By Richard Chiappone,

Book cover of The Hunger of Crows

What is my book about?

Carla Merino, a divorced cocktail waitress with a penchant for picking guys up in the bars where she works in Phoenix, AZ hooks up with the wrong guy: Cosmo D’Angelo, a former CIA gunslinger. In D’Angelo’s bedroom Carla discovers something that could bring down the country’s most powerful and dangerous military contracting company and destroy its founder’s plans to run for President of the United States. Knowing D’Angelo and his organization will stop at nothing to get that secret back, Carla flees and drives north until she runs out of road in the small coastal town of Homer, Alaska, a remote, quiet place more than four thousand miles away. But is it far enough? 

Whispering Alaska

By Brendan Jones,

Book cover of Whispering Alaska

Also environmentally themed (a town threatened by a giant clear-cutting lumber operation), Whispering Alaska is ultimately a family story of twin sisters coming to Alaska. I loved the way Jones depicts the vastly different twin girls: one compliant and friendly, the other withdrawn and driving her father nuts. Tolstoy famously said all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Well, this family is struggling with the loss of the girl’s mother on top of trying to find their places in the rainy Southeast coastal town. Listed as “middle-grade” Y/A, it’s a great read for adults interested in Alaska too. 


Who am I?

I have lived in Alaska for forty years, working both as a construction worker and a college professor. I love Alaska, but not always the way it is depicted, particularly on reality TV. I hope the characters I create and the stories I tell will bring a more balanced view of everyday Alaskans, who are, after all, Americans too. The Hunger of Crows shows small-town Alaska through the eyes of four characters: two lifelong Alaskans, and two “from Outside” as we say here. Hopefully, it will provide a balanced view of this great place.


I wrote...

The Hunger of Crows

By Richard Chiappone,

Book cover of The Hunger of Crows

What is my book about?

Carla Merino, a divorced cocktail waitress with a penchant for picking guys up in the bars where she works in Phoenix, AZ hooks up with the wrong guy: Cosmo D’Angelo, a former CIA gunslinger. In D’Angelo’s bedroom Carla discovers something that could bring down the country’s most powerful and dangerous military contracting company and destroy its founder’s plans to run for President of the United States. Knowing D’Angelo and his organization will stop at nothing to get that secret back, Carla flees and drives north until she runs out of road in the small coastal town of Homer, Alaska, a remote, quiet place more than four thousand miles away. But is it far enough? 

Denali's Howl

By Andy Hall,

Book cover of Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's Wildest Peak

I didn’t discover Denali’s Howl until after I’d written and published my book, and when I did, I was blown away. Hall is an impressive yet sensitive storyteller in his narration of the background leading up to, and the details of, this tragic mountain climbing incident. But what really grabbed me was the way this true story validated my fictional characters in terms of their behaviors, personalities, and decisions in the face of death and disaster. This book is a first-class introduction to the world of mountain climbing on Denali, and although climbing technology and practices have evolved since 1967, the mountain is still relentlessly in control today.


Who am I?

I’m a huge fan of Alaska—a landscape of unforgiving weather patterns, inaccessible terrain, savage animals, and undeniable pristine beauty. I’m also a nature lover and spend as much time outdoors as possible, often hiking and marveling at spectacular vistas like those found in The Damnable Legacy. But I’m also an avid observer of the human race and am fascinated by all sorts of behaviors: why we pursue our passions, how we love and grieve, and whether we can really change who we are at the core. 

I wrote...

The Damnable Legacy

By G. Elizabeth Kretchmer,

Book cover of The Damnable Legacy

What is my book about?

Lynn Van Swol still regrets the decision she made thirty years ago to place her daughter for adoption so she could be free to pursue her passion for mountain climbing. Frankie Rizzoni is the troubled granddaughter Lynn has never known. And Beth Mahoney is a minister’s wife, and the only one who knows the relationship between Lynn and Frankie. The problem is that she is diagnosed with terminal cancer and doesn’t have long to live. She designs a plan to bring them together, but now narrating from the afterlife, she witnesses its unraveling.

The Damnable Legacy is a story about both love and survival, exploring the importance of attachment, place, and faith, and asking how far we should go to achieve our goalsand at what cost.

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