Review of Point Hope Alaska: life on frozen water, by Berit Arnestad Foote

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Elias, Scott (2009)

This beautifully illustrated book documents three years in the life of Point Hope, Alaska. Point Hope has been a whaling camp site of the Inupiat people for over 2500 years, based on archaeological studies. Up until the 1950s, the settlement here had remained much as it had been since its inhabitants first began having contact with outsiders. Missionaries, school teachers and supplies had arrived from the USA in the 20th century, as the Territory of Alaska started to receive greater attention from the government and people of the “lower 48” states. But in the 1950s, two rather momentous events conspired to change Point Hope, and the rest of rural Alaska. In 1959 Alaska became the 49th state of the Union. One year earlier, the nuclear physicist Edward Teller proposed to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) that they explode an atomic bomb 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima in north-west Alaska, in order to create a man-made harbour. The site selected by the AEC was Ogotoruk Creek, 50 km south-east of Point Hope. This proposal seems ludicrous to most people in the 21st century. Indeed, the author’s brother-in-law, Joseph Foote, described it as “harebrained but frightening” in his essay near the start of the book. Nevertheless, the project was adopted by the AEC, under the code name of Project Chariot. The full story of this bizarre chapter in American history has been very well told in Dan O’Neill’s book, The firecracker boys (1994).
  • References (2)

    Brower C. 1942. Fifty years below zero: a lifetime of adventure in the Far North. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. Reprinted in 2008, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.

    O'Neill D. 1994. The firecracker boys. H-bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the roots of the environmental movement. New York: St. Martins Press.

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