Tag Archives: Books

Top 10 Novels Set in Alaska

In our previous list of the Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Alaska, we explained that books about Alaska are so plentiful they have inspired their own genre: Alaskana.  This is our list of our favorite novels set in the state. 

10. Heartbroke Bay by Lynn D’Urso (2010)

Based on a true story, this is an interesting fictional account of a woman living at Lituya Bay before the catastrophic tsunami of 1899.

9. Alaska: A Novel by James A. Michener (1988)

Michener’s epic style meshes well with this gigantic state.

8. A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (1992)

The first in a series of mysteries set in a fictional rendering of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with the unforgettable heroine Kate Shugak.

7. Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner (2004)

Kantner grew up in “the bush,” which is where he set this story.

6. Sailor Song by Ken Kesey (1992)

The author of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest set this comedic novel in Southeast Alaska.

5. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

A supernatural tale of two homesteaders in Alaska who discover a young girl in their yard circa 1920.

4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

Read about this alternate reality after you visit Sitka to truly picture the story’s setting.

3. The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig (1982)

Based on a true story of four Scandinavian men who escaped indentured servitude in Russian Alaska in 1853.

2. Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis (1996)

A traditional Athabaskan story is retold exceptionally well by the author who also wrote Two Old Women.

1. The End of the Road by Tom Bodett (1989)

Bodett wrote a series of hilarious novels set in Homer in the 1980s that have stood the test of time.

Honorable Mention

To Build a Fire and Other Stories by Jack London (1908)

Many of these classic tales are set in Canada’s Yukon Territory, but they could just as well be in Alaska.

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Alaska

Books about Alaska are so plentiful they have inspired their own genre: Alaskana.  This is a list of our favorite non-fiction books about Alaska (leaving off the overrated Coming into the Country by John McPhee, who has written many better books).  As a couple we have visited the state many times, including for our honeymoon.  Scott attended grad school in Fairbanks where he took advantage of the entire floor of the university library dedicated to Alaskana.  Two of the very best books (One Man’s Wilderness and A Naturalist in Alaska) wound up on our list of top non-fiction set in a National Park. Our next list will cover Alaskana fiction.

10. The Blue Bear:A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild by Lynn Schooler (2002)

A descriptive account of traveling Southeast Alaska with the renowned photographer Michio Hoshino.

9. Tracks of the Unseen: Meditations on Alaska Wildlife, Landscape, and Photography by Nick Jans (2000)

Jans is a well-known contemporary non-fiction author in the state who writes great short stories.

8. Stalking the Ice Dragon: An Alaskan Journey by Susan Zwinger (1991)

The daughter of famous naturalist Ann Zwinger offers an interesting, but slightly dated view of Alaska.

7. Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska by Rockwell Kent (1920)

Kent was a successful illustrator when he and his son moved to a remote cabin on Resurrection Bay.

6. Alaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range by Robert Marshall (1956)

Marshall’s name is synonymous with wilderness and his descriptions of the Arctic are wonderful.

5. Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie (1962)

The wife of naturalist Olaus Murie eloquently described growing up in Fairbanks and their time together in the Arctic.

4. Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man by Doug Fine (2004)

A funny book about surviving an Alaskan winter written by an outsider who moved to Homer.

3. Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey by Jean Aspen (1993)

There are many books about homesteading in the wilds of Alaska, but this is our favorite.

2. Looking for Alaska by Peter Jenkins (2001)

A great introduction to the variety of people and landscapes encompassed by this massive state (and not to be confused with the fiction book with the same title).

1. Alaska’s Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser by Jim Rearden (1998)

An excellent biography of one of the toughest men to ever trod the Alaskan tundra.

Honorable Mentions

Danger Stalks the Land: Alaskan Tales of Death and Survival by Larry Kaniut (1999)

Known better for his collected Bear Tales, this title covers a variety of ways to die in the Far North.

A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski by Erin McKittrick (2009)

Worth reading just for the logistics required to get from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands solely by manpower.

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Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Multiple National Parks

The only thing that is nearly as fun as visiting National Parks is reading about them. Here is a list of our 10 favorite non-fiction books that cover multiple units of the National Park Service (NPS) System. Our previous list was limited to those set in a single park.

10. Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks
by Jim Burnett (2012)
Like the historic Oh, Ranger! books, this one covers the lighter side of interactions between NPS employees and tourists.

9. My Wild Life: A Memoir of Adventures within America’s National Parks
by Roland H. Wauer (2014)
The first half of this autobiography of a National Park Ranger is an interesting look at research in Big Bend, Death Valley, and other National Parks before devolving into his life list of international bird species.

8. Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks
by Mark Woods (2016)
This Florida journalist received a grant to explore National Parks across the United States of America and brings an interesting perspective on them.

7. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
by Timothy Egan (1990)
The author visits many National Park Service sites in this good introduction for outsiders to the landscapes and people of Washington and Oregon.

6. Travels in the Greater Yellowstone
by Jack Turner (2008)
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem also includes Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and this is an interesting journey across its many corners by an always opinionated and interesting writer.

5. Desert Time: A Journey through the American Southwest
by Diana Kappel-Smith (1992)
The author’s pencil illustrations add a wonderful layer to her vivid descriptions of American deserts from Idaho to Texas, including numerous National Park Service units.

4. House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization across the American Southwest
by Craig Childs (2007)
Craig Childs has written several great non-fiction books set in the Southwest U.S. This one describes the world of the Ancestral Puebloan (formerly called Anasazi) people at multiple sites including Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.

3. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by John Wesley Powell (1874)
The author, a one-armed Civil War veteran, led the first expedition down the unmapped and untamed Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon in 1869.

2. Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks
by Michael Lanza (2012)
The writer travels to some of the most imperiled National Parks with his family to experience them before they are permanently altered by climate change.

  

…and finally our number one non-fiction book set in multiple National Parks:

1. Our National Parks
by John Muir (1901)
Famous preservationist John Muir wrote many colorful descriptions of America’s wonderlands in his books (especially his beloved Yosemite), but none covers as wide a range as Our National Parks.

 

Honorable Mentions
Travels with Charlie in Search of America
by John Steinbeck (1962)
Perhaps a bit dated now, but this is a cherished travelogue from a national treasure.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many parks in the National Park Service System and is considered an affiliated unit. This sometimes painful-to-read autobiography contains beautiful descriptions of the natural landscape.

Top 10 Novels Set in a National Park

There is nothing like a great novel, especially one set in a National Park. Here is a list of our 10 favorite fiction books set in a unit of the National Park Service System.  Our previous list covered non-fiction books.

  1. Skinny Dip

by Carl Hiaasen (2004)

Everglades National Park

Hiaasen sets all of his funny novels in South Florida (including the wonderful children’s book Hoot).  We have read several, but this is our favorite with swamps, subtropical islands, alligators, and a dive from a cruise boat.

  1. Island of the Blue Dolphins

by Scott O’Dell (1960)

Channel Islands National Park

A Newbery Medal Winner that tells the story of a girl marooned for 18 years in the Channel Islands off California in the 1800s.  Based loosely on a true story.

  1. Winter Study

by Nevada Barr (2008)

Isle Royale National Park

Ranger Anna Pigeon mysteries are a staple in most National Park bookstores.  They are entertaining and we always learn about something new, like wolf research and hypothermia prevention in this one.

  1. River Runs Deep

by Jennifer Bradbury (2015)

Mammoth Cave National Park

Long before it became a National Park, cave tours were led by slaves in Kentucky.  This children’s book also deals with the cave’s brief history as an infirmary for tuberculosis patients.

  1. Misty of Chincoteague

by Marguerite Henry (1947)

Assateague Island National Seashore

A classic about a wild pony that grows up on Assateague and Chincoteague Islands on the Atlantic border of Maryland and Virginia.  She also wrote the excellent Brighty of the Grand Canyon.

  1. One Day on Beetle Rock

by Sally Carrighar (1944)

Sequoia National Park

Humans are not main characters in this imaginative novel that details the happenings in the lives of the many animals inhabiting this California forest.

  1. Song of the Exile

by Kiana Davenport (1999)

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Historical fiction follows the decades of changes experienced by a woman who is exiled to the leper colony on the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula of Moloka’i Island in Hawai’i.  Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i is a similar book.

  1. Serena

by Ron Rash (2008)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This novel is set in the years prior to the creation of the park when ruthless logging companies rushed to maximize their profits.  Also a feature film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

  1. The Deer Stalker

by Zane Grey (1925)

Grand Canyon National Park

The greatest Western novelist ever turned his attention to a wildlife manager on the North Rim of the canyon in the wake of World War I.  Another of his works set in a National Park is Boulder Dam (Lake Mead National Recreation Area).

…and finally our #1 novel set in a National Park!

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  1. The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara (1974)

Gettysburg National Military Park

Narratives of the momentous events at Gettysburg in July 1863 told from the point-of-view of some of its most prominent players.  Arguably the best work of historical fiction ever written.

Honorable Mention

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

by Tom Robbins (1976)

Badlands National Park

Tom Robbins is hilarious.  His books are character driven (like the unforgettable Sissy Hankshaw with her oversized thumbs) but the South Dakota setting is also important to this book.

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in a National Park

The only thing that is nearly as fun as being in a National Park is reading about one. Here is a list of our 10 favorite non-fiction books set specifically in one unit of the National Park Service System. Our next list will include those that cover multiple parks.

  1. Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park

by Tim Cahill (2004)

Yellowstone National Park

There are many great books written about this oldest of all National Parks (including the bestselling Death in Yellowstone), but none is as funny as the one written by this globetrotting travel writer.

  1. A Naturalist in Alaska

by Adolph Murie (1961)

Denali National Park

Wildlife biologist Adolph Murie was invited to Alaska by the National Park Service in 1939-40 to study the diverse species inhabiting Mt. McKinley National Park (as it was known at the time).

  1. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

by Rinker Buck (2015)

Oregon National Historical Trail

Two mules pulled a wagon with two brothers across the modern American West to Oregon: hilarity ensued and history relived.

  1. The Last Season

by Eric Blehm (2006)

Kings Canyon National Park

A well-researched investigation into the disappearance of a National Park Ranger in the rugged backcountry of California’s Sierra Nevadas.

  1. The Everglades: River of Grass

by Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)

Everglades National Park

Unfortunately, her name may be more known as a high school today, but this woman’s efforts helped to protect this park from South Florida developers.

  1. The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

by Richard Preston (2007)

Redwood National Park

Whoever said scientists can’t have any fun conducting research needs to read this exciting book about the ecologists that climb 300 feet up redwood trees in California.

  1. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

by Edward Abbey (1968)

Arches National Park

Many National Park Rangers have written memoirs, but this is by far the best one. Written about a time before the red rock wonderland around Moab, Utah became the zoo it is today.

  1. One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey

by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke (1973)

Lake Clark National Park

The journal of Richard Proenneke who homesteaded a remote part of the Alaska Peninsula before Lake Clark National Park and Preserve was created around it in 1980. There is also an excellent documentary of the same title.

  1. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

An epic combination of history and biography about the men and women who run the Colorado River through Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

…and finally our number one Non-Fiction Book Set in a National Park:

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  1. The Jewel Cave Adventure: Fifty Miles of Discovery in South Dakota

by Herb and Jan Conn (1977)

Jewel Cave National Monument

The last frontier may well be beneath our feet. This true adventure of cave exploration is written in a very matter-of-fact way, yet is still a page turner.

Honorable Mention

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson (1998)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail is counted as one of the 417 units in the National Park Service System, and this is the funniest book ever written about backpacking it (or part of it).