Floating Coast

An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

Bathsheba Demuth (Author, Brown University)


A groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between capitalism, communism, and Arctic ecology since the dawn of the industrial age.

Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.

The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans—the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia—before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?

Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, as well as from archival sources, Demuth shows how the social, the political, and the environmental clashed in this liminal space. Through the lens of the natural world, she views human life and economics as fundamentally about cycles of energy, bringing a fresh and visionary spin to the writing of human history.

Floating Coast is a profoundly resonant tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that immense human needs and ambitions have brought, and will continue to bring, to a finite planet.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • Forthcoming August 2019
  • ISBN 978-0-393-63516-4
  • 6.1 × 9.3 in / 416 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Demuth emphasizes the Bering Strait as a point of intersection between the human and natural worlds…. [All sections of Floating Coast] speak to the complexity of the area in general and to its fascinating legacy, a history Demuth’s authoritative chronicle conveys with both insight and, in an era of climactic peril, urgency.” — Publishers Weekly

“A poetic meditation on the devastations of modernity in the sea, on terra firma and, eventually, belowground. Whale hunters and reindeer herders, greedy capitalists and utopian planners, hopeful prospectors and raw-material-hungry government bureaucrats appear on the stage in this analytically powerful book, a monument to a people and their land just as much as an allegory of the world we have created.” — Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History

“Brilliant, compelling, and beautifully executed. Demuth writes with the poetry and wisdom of the land and the sea, drawing the human-wrought past of a faraway place close to the lives and future of us all.” — Jack E. Davis, author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea

“Demuth does elegant justice to the social and environmental revolutions on land and sea that define the modern history of Beringia, and to the many stories of indigenous communities and diverse newcomers, of gold rush and gulag, of whales and caribou. Her pleasing prose disguises her relentless research and highlights her profound sense of place.” — John McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun

“Bathsheba Demuth’s history flows as richly and fluidly as Arctic waters. Floating Coast narrates the transmutation of nearly every object and idea into something else. As she tracks the dynamics of the modernist ecological makeover of the Bering Strait, Demuth is inventing a new form of historical narrative.” — Kate Brown, professor of science, technology, and society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology