5 Must-Read Books About Alaska’s First Naturalist

5 Must-Read Books About Alaska’s First Naturalist

These 5 must-read books examine the life of Georg Wilhelm Steller, the first European naturalist to visit Alaska.

1. Steller’s Orchid by Tom McGuire

“In 1924, John Lars Nelson travels to the Shumagin Islands in the Gulf of Alaska. He tells people he is doing a botanical survey, but the real goal of his quest is a mysterious orchid described by a naturalist in 1741 and never again seen. During his journey, John Lars hitches a ride on a schooner whose bootlegger captain has a hidden past. John Lars also meets a young Aleut woman, Natasha Christiansen. She becomes his guide and leads him to question the validity of everything he thought he knew. Together, they reach Nagai Island where the search for the orchid comes to a violent conclusion.”

2. Where the Sea Breaks Its Back by Corey Ford

“Author Corey Ford writes the classic and moving story of naturalist Georg Whlhelm Steller, who served on the 1741-42 Russian Alaska expedition with explorer Vitus Bering. Steller was one of Europe’s foremost naturalists and the first to document the unique wildlife of the Alaskan coast. In the course of the voyage, Steller made his valuable discoveries and suffered, along with Bering and the cred of the ill-fated brig St. Peter, some of the most grueling experiences in the history of Arctic exploration.”

3. The Singing Bones by Stephen Spotte

“A blend of narrative adventure and biography, this historical first-person novel chronicles the professional visions and conflicted life of a deeply fascinating, flawed, and courageous man who devoted everything to advancing the frontiers of science and improving the lives of the native Siberians.”

4. Sea Cows, Shamans, and Scurvy by Ann Arnold

“On June 4, 1741, Georg Wilhelm Steller set sail from Avacha Bay in Siberia on the St. Peter, under the command of Vitus Bering. The crew was bound for America on the last leg of an expedition whose mission was to explore, describe, and map Russia’s vast lands from the Ural Mountains across Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula, and possibly lay claim to the northwest coast of America – if they could find it, for no European had ever reached America by this route. Officially, Steller was the ship’s mineralogist, but in practice he was its doctor, minister, and naturalist as well. Appointed to the expedition in 1737 by the Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, he was sworn to secrecy concerning any discoveries.”

5. Steller’s Island by Dean Littlepage

“In 1741, a Russian expedition ship captained by Vitus Bering carried the first scientist to set foot anywhere on the western half of North America. Georg Steller would introduce the world to the staggering wealth and diversity of life of the North Pacific, providing the first European accounts of the sea otter, sea lion, northern fur seal, native Alaskan Chugach people, and more. Steller’s Island is a fascinating tale of the rewards and perils of exploration in this era. It is about the courage of scientific curiosity, even in uncharted waters, alien lands, and desperate circumstances, including storms, scurvy, and shipwreck.”


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