Broad view of the Bering Strait

Bathsheba Demuth’s Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait (WW Norton), which Robert Macfarlane recommended when I interviewed him earlier this year, was reviewed at the weekend in The New York Times by the novelist Julia Phillips (author of the bestselling Disappearing Earth):

The first people to enter the Americas came through Beringia, the stretch of land and sea between what is now Russia and Alaska. That may have been 20,000 years ago. By foot, by boat, they traveled, hunted and built communities. Some of them moved south. Within a few millenniums, people had settled everywhere from the Arctic Circle down to Patagonia. All the places on this continent we know — the cities, the villages, the spot where this newspaper is printed — follow this movement out of the Bering Strait. To study that place is to know a whole hemisphere’s history.

It’s also key for understanding the present. Movement in the Bering Strait continues. In “Floating Coast,” Bathsheba Demuth, an environmental historian at Brown University, tracks the last two centuries of motion between northeastern Russia and northwestern America.

  It is, Phillips says, sometimes a challenging book, but a rich, well-researched and rewarding one.

It keeps under readers’ feet the vastness of Demuth’s expertise, as solid as a land bridge. She has made it her life’s work to learn about Beringia. In relaying her knowledge, she provides a vision not only of where we on this continent came from but where we are headed. We study the Bering Strait to learn what the future holds.

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