Shadows on the Koyukuk by Sidney Huntington as told to Jim Rearden

Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native’s Life Along the River by Sidney Huntington as told to Jim Rearden
Publisher: Alaska Northwest Books
Genre: History, Non-fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

“I owe Alaska. It gave me everything I have.” Says Sidney Huntington, son of an Athapaskan mother and white trader/trapper father. Growing up on the Koyukuk River in Alaska’s harsh Interior, that “everything” spans 78 years of tragedies and adventures. When his mother died suddenly, 5-year-old Huntington protected and cared for his younger brother and sister during two weeks of isolation. Later, as a teenager, he plied the wilderness traplines with his father, nearly freezing to death several times. One spring, he watched an ice-filled breakup flood sweep his family’s cabin and belongings away. These and many other episodes are the compelling background for the story of a man who learned the lessons of a land and culture, lessons that enabled him to prosper as trapper, boat builder, and fisherman.
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This is more than one man’s incredible tale of hardship and success in Alaska. It is also a tribute to the Athapaskan traditions and spiritual beliefs that enabled him and his ancestors to survive. His story, simply told, is a testament to the durability of Alaska’s wild lands and to the strength of the people who inhabit them.

Sidney Huntington is half Athapaskan and half Caucasian and lives off the land in the interior of Alaska. Life there is harsh and demanding with the temperature commonly being well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. His story is a giant adventure filled with little slice of life vignettes.

At age five, the oldest of three children, his mother died while his father was away. This five-year-old has nowhere to turn and has to survive and help his younger siblings survive as well. At one point, a bear was dragging away his baby sister by her diaper.

This true story entertains while educating on the reality of living under such circumstances. Sidney is a likeable character, and smart. It is a wonder to read about how he gets out of many difficult situations. Readers are also graced with cultural insights. This book is a great look into another culture. I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning about other places.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.
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Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

There are many books out about Alexander Hamilton, and Ron Chernow’s is an engaging and informative one. It is a thick book, but it is an easy read, not a dry textbook. Readers follow Hamilton’s life from the beginning and learn about his humble beginnings. That puts his achievements in an even brighter light than one may have done before.

The settings are well drawn, and readers will be able to picture those places, from an island to New York etc. Details not only help us to see and feel the surroundings but also play a part in shaping Hamilton’s views. What he saw impacted him, and this would play a role in his activities later on.

Readers get to see other famous historical figures through Hamilton’s eyes, and this is particularly interesting if one has read about Hamilton’s opponents. The comparison is enlightening. Though the book is written with obvious admiration for Hamilton by the author, it is done fairly, as would be expected of such a respected historian. Readers will learn more than just Hamilton’s past; they will discover or review important events in the nation’s history. Some of those things will be familiar, but others will be new. This book is well worth the read whether or not you are a fan of Hamilton.