Books About Alaska
My advice on guidebooks to Alaska can be summed up very briefly - The Milepost. If you are driving to Alaska, you need it. If you are taking a plane or ship to Alaska, then renting a car, you will still want it.
Naturally there are other guidebooks to Alaska. Peggy Wayburn's Adventuring in Alaska is excellent. Moon and Lonely Planet each have pocket size guides. Others, such as Alaska, the Cruise Lovers Guide, approach it from the cruise-ship travellers point of view. The National Geographic Driving Guide to the Pacific Northwest (see the listing below) has only two chapters on Alaska, but it might be worth having.
Maps and Atlases
De Lorme makes a large format and very detailed Alaska Atlas and Gazetteer. There are topographic maps available of major recreation areas such as Denali National Park, Prince William Sound, and Glacier Bay.
Much of the fiction associated with Alaska is actually about Canada - specifically, the Yukon. Still, classics such as the stories of Jack London (see my special section on The Works of Jack London) and the poems of Robert Service are as much about the gold rushes in Alaska as they are about the Klondike.
There is also a small body of fiction about other aspects of Alaska. A recent entry is the mystery writer Dana Stabenow, whose protagonist is a native American police detective. (See also my special section on Mystery Writers of the West).
Tom Bodett has written a couple of charming short books about everyday life in his home town of Homer (refer to the list beow).
History and Biography
The best all around introduction to Alaska's fascinating history is Coming into the Country, by John McPhee. James Michener has, not surprisingly, writtten a massive work of historical fiction: Alaska, and also a novel: Journey.
If you are going to Fairbanks or further north, be sure to take Pielou's A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic with you. See my special section on E.C. Pielou's Books on the Arctic for comprehensive background on the natural history of the far north. A number of books are available about the distinctive wildlife species of Alaska, especially bears and wolves. Several of the Lone Pine plant guides cover various parts of Alaska. The Roadside Geology of Alaska covers all the major roads of the state.
One of the early movie classics was Nanook of the North, a documentary from the silent movie era (sound was added later) about the life of Eskimos.
Not many movies that are purportedly about Alaska were actually filmed there. The John Wayne classic North to Alaska was filmed in the high desert of Owens Valley, California.
The marvellous television series Northern Exposure, was set in fictional Cicely, Alaska, but filmed in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. See my Blog post about Roslyn, Washington and Cicely, Alaska.
On the other hand, The Hunt for Red October used Resurrection Bay near Seward to stand in for the Russian submarine base at Murmansk.
This book, updated annually since 1949, is an institution. It started as a mile by mile guide to the Alaska Highway when it first opened to civilian traffic. In those days you really needed a guidebook, because it might be 200 miles between gas stations, campgrounds were scarce, and motels almost non-existent. As automobile tourism to Alaska expanded, so did The Milepost, so that now it covers essentially every driveable road in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Columbia.
The format is simple: each major road is described mile by mile. It lists every roadside attraction, every service for travellers, almost every business. There are ads mixed in with the text, which some people find tacky, but they are really very useful. The maps are simple and schematic, but easy to read and perfectly suited to their purpose. The photographs are small but well chosen.
The main road in this area is of course the Alaska Highway, which runs through northern British Columbia and the Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska. But all other important roads, and even some of the very long gravel highways such as the Dempster, are covered in the same detail. Coverage actually extends down to Great Falls, Montana, and Seattle, Washington (the two main approaches to the Alaska Highway.)
In addition to highway information there are sections on ferries and railroads, and the roadless communities of the Inside Passage and the interior.
Full List of Links