More exciting news for the Aunt Phil’s Trunk Alaska history series – Volume Five received a wonderful review in the Alaska Dispatch News on Sunday, April 24! Click here to read the full review by critic David James
“Ten years ago when I first took a job reviewing Alaska books for another publication, I was handed a stack of recent works for consideration. Among them was Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One, featuring a photograph of an elderly woman with a kind face on the cover along with the words: “an Alaska historian’s collection of treasured tales.”
Since it was independently published, and since I’d received another volume of anecdotal Alaska history that was poorly written and lacking in context, I was unsure if I wanted to consider this one. I decided I’d give it 20 pages, and if it didn’t grab me, I’d move on.
Twenty pages later, I was a dedicated fanboy and have remained so throughout the ensuing decade and the now four additional volumes of Aunt Phil’s Trunk that followed….
Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Five takes up where the previous one left off, immediately after Alaska was admitted to the Union. The first chapter introduces readers to the new state’s first governor, William Egan, with a quick recap of his career. This is followed by chapters exploring challenges facing Alaska as it shifted from a territory that had been almost fully financed by the federal government to a state expected to pull its own weight.
Readers learn about the difficulties of funding a vast region with a tiny population. They’ll also discover that the perennial efforts at moving the state capital from Juneau to someplace closer to the more populated Southcentral region commenced almost as soon as the gavel fell to open the first meeting of the Legislature.
One can’t write about early statehood without mentioning the 1964 Good Friday earthquake that devastated Anchorage and many coastal communities. This is particularly true for a series focused on the human side of history, and this volume devotes more than 100 pages to the calamity. The damage the quake and subsequent tsunamis inflicted on Anchorage, Valdez, Kodiak, Whittier and elsewhere is recounted.
The Aunt Phil’s Trunk books have a well-deserved reputation for being exhaustively illustrated with photographs on nearly every page, and the selection on the earthquake is especially dramatic with dozens of images of the disaster’s aftermath….
The other big story of Alaska’s first quarter-century as a state is the intertwined battles over land distribution, Native claims and the oil discoveries that spurred action on all three fronts. The book pays tribute to Alaska Native leaders who worked the system from the inside through legal maneuvering, winning a historic victory with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Meanwhile the section on the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline includes some of the best pictures in this already well-illustrated volume.
As more of a citizens’ history, the book includes things that would likely be left out of textbooks. There’s an account of the first Iditarod, a chapter on how Alaskans dealt with the mentally ill, the story of an enormous flagpole that the city of Ketchikan donated to Anchorage, and several tales of high-profile murders, including the massacres in McCarthy and Manley that occurred about a year apart in the early 1980s.
Like previous volumes, chapters in this book are written in the style of newspaper features articles. They can easily stand alone while also adding to a greater whole … The writing is engaging throughout and the pictures alone are worth the cost of the book.
By making her aunt’s work available and adding her own touches, Downing Bill has brought Alaska’s past to life in a way that should appeal even to those who rarely read history. Volume Five ends in 1984 and Downing Bill does not plan on taking it further, so the series is complete. And all of it is good.”
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Volume Five yet, Click here and order your autographed book now!