Review for Interior and Northern Alaska: A Natural History
by Paul Matheus (Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada)

If you’re fascinated by Alaska and the north, and want to understand its natural history beyond the level presented by glossy magazines and TV documentaries, this is your book.

As a professor of biology for over 30 years at North America’s farthest north University, Smith has conducted and observed a wide variety of research, and in this book he has done an outstanding job compiling much of what he has learned about how life works in the north. Filled with explanations of myriad biological processes and salted with often-humorous anecdotes, the book reads as both textbook and personal narrative. You’ll enjoy the narrative aspect because Smith uses it to step back from the science and show the reader how he or a colleague stumbled across an interesting question or natural phenomenon in the first place—In other words, true serendipity. In this regard, the book has plenty of eureka moments and one-off tales of discovery. And perhaps what Smith does best is explain not just what we know about the ways animals and plants have adapted to conditions of the north, but how we’ve come to know it.

While the book doesn’t shy away from technical details, you won’t need a graduate degree to understand Smith’s excellent explanations of topics such as chemical antifreeze in insects, how plants extract nutrients from cold northern soils, or why the largest graylings are found farthest upstream in Alaskan rivers. Ever wonder about short-term memory in flying squirrels? I bet you never would have guessed that kestrels figure out the best places to hunt voles by detecting urine trails left by the voles when they mark runways— kestrel eyes can detect the ultraviolet wavelengths of light reflected by the urine.

Perhaps the book’s nicest features is its layout. The 11 chapters are topical (e.g., “From Mighty Moose to Mighty Small Bats: Some Mammals of the Boreal Forest”), and sub-sections within chapters organize the narrative into nice bite-size pieces, addressing a particular species, a suite of adaptive strategies used by a group of plants or animals (e.g., Advantages and Disadvantages of Being Warm Blooded”), or an ecosystem dynamic (e.g., “Tundra Population Cycles and Fluctuations”). So while the book is almost an encyclopedia of northern biology and landscapes (though the term “encyclopedic” does it disservice), it’s not daunting because it invites you to just open the book to any section and start reading.

This book will be valued by a wide audience. Every biology student enrolled in a northern university should have this book on his or her desk, and it’s likely to be adopted as a textbook by many universities offering courses in northern studies. As a professional biologist in the north, I used it to fill in many holes in my knowledge, and I will always keep it handy for reference. But it is not just textbook material. Anyone planning a trip to Alaska will want this book on his or her dashboard, and it’s worth the weight to put it in your backpack.

If you’ve been bitten by the Alaskan bug, this is the scratch for your itch.

Review for Interior and Northern Alaska: A Natural History
by R. Owen "opstx" (Mountain Home, Texas)
September 28, 2008

This review is from: Interior & Northern Alaska: A Natural History (Paperback)

This book is a fascinating look at how plants and animals have adapted to the climate extremes found in our northernmost state. Even for a native Texan, the clear and informative descriptions of the various adaptive mechanisms is captivating.

Smith writes with the authority of a lifetime student of the subject matter, which he is. The level of detail is very appropriate, and the scientific details (which abound in this book) are so lucidly explained as to satisfy the student and intrigue the layperson. Smith's writing style is relaxed and clear. Examples from his years in Alaska abound, and it is almost as though he is talking directly to the reader. Smith must have been a great professor if this style comes from his teaching experience.

Even though you may never travel to Alaska, this is a rewarding read for anyone curious about our natural world and for Alaskans or those who will be visiting, this book should be considered indispensible.

Highly recommended.

Review for Interior and Northern Alaska: A Natural History
by "ML" (Alaska)
May 15, 2009

Readable, well organized and animated with numerous illustrations, this book is useable on a number of levels: primer for the interested tourist, serious intro to Alaskan natural history, course text, reference...

This is not simply a guide to plant and animal identities, but a set of stories about interior and northern Alaska--about the challenges and solutions to living at these northern latitudes--with a compelling cast of characters.

In the introductory discussion about survival strategies and adaptations to cold, the author points out that while the realms of boreal forest, tundra and northern aquatic systems may seem peripheral and distant, they in fact comprise a large fraction of the earth's land surface. Smith explains why the permafrost inheritance of Pleistocene cold is simultaneously a critical aspect of present northern latitude soil, plant and animal interactions and an essential part of informed thinking about the processes and outcomes of global warming.

From woolly mammoths to shrew vocalizations, there is a lot of ground to cover. Smith moves along at a friendly pace with a flexibility of focus and welcome good humor. His tales from decades' of Alaskan hunting and camping, home life and biological research liven the terrain. A trip through terrific country with a knowledgeable and pleasant companion.

Review for How Not to Die Hunting in Alaska
by Dermot Cole, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Ron Smith has spent decades sharing lessons learned from science and the outdoors in college classrooms. In this rich and entertaining account, he presents hard-won practical advice about how to get the most out of life in Alaska.

Review for How Not to Die Hunting in Alaska
by Russ Shoemaker

This book is fully loaded with real life adventures and instructions on hunting in Alaska. As a participant in some of the shenanigans described herein, I am happy to say that we did NOT die in the process.

Review for How Not to Die Hunting in Alaska
by Jamie Smith, Creator of “Nuggets” cartoons

This one is going in my outhouse! Jeanne Armstrong’s funny pictures brought back both a big grin and all the times I found myself in similar silly situations: anybody who’s spent any t5ime out in the bush- or even just the bushes- surely can relate to the ridiculous scenarios she sketches out around these tales.