[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Host, Jeanne Devon:
“Only in Alaska.”
We hear that said up here in the Last Frontier all the time. In the case of the rise of Sarah Palin, the fall of Bill Allen and the larger-than-life legacy of Ted Stevens, it is literally true. It only could have happened here.
Crude Awakening explains the growing pains and tribulations of a new state coming of age in the modern era – a state of wilderness, and Sourdoughs, thousands of years of Native culture, fishermen, prospectors and pioneers, brilliant minds and brave souls writing their own Constitution. In some ways comparable to the spirit of newness, hope and optimism of Philadelphia in the 1830s, Alaska’s coming out party had a darker and more raucous side. Heralded by the discovery of North Slope crude in 1968, Alaska’s coming of age meant that almost overnight in came the Outsiders – oil mavericks, religious zealots, guys in suits, Texans, and opportunists eager to make a buck. It has not been an easy or graceful adolescence for the 49th state which just celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the brief but eventful Palin administration.
Emerging from Alaska’s new-found wealth and opportunity came a handful of players who shaped the state for good and not-so-good. With opportunity comes greed. With power comes corruption. Crude Awakening focuses on three of these history makers – former half-term governor Sarah Palin, the late Senator Ted Stevens, and unlikely political kingmaker and entrepreneur Bill Allen.
After the 2008 election Alaskans were often asked by those Outside, with more than a little derision, “How could you have elected her?” Amanda Coyne and Tony Hopfinger skillfully put into historical context the unique set of circumstances that rolled out Alaska’s political red carpet for an unknown Wasilla mayor who would change politics nationwide and put Alaska on the map in its proper place for many who thought of it only as the state in that box somewhere near Hawaii. And isn’t it dark all the time, and don’t they live in igloos? To fully understand Palin’s political career, you have to watch the prequel. Coyne and Hopfinger show us the reel. Sarah Palin’s political career was no accident and her sparkling ivory tower was built on a foundation of charred political bones with their own stories to tell.
For Alaskans, this book is sure to be a mix of comfortable known history and “hey, I never knew that” moments. For Outsiders (yes, we capitalize it), it will be a jaw-dropping, eye-popping look into a world of political intrigue that doesn’t seem possible – a small-town writ geographically large, where even the unlikeliest and shadiest of characters is one degree of separation from power-brokers and political hot-shots.
How did hard-scrabble, uneducated self-made oil services maverick Bill Allen befriend Harvard grad Senator Ted Stevens, at one time fourth in line for the presidency of the United States? And how did Stevens (whom most Outside know only as the “series of tubes guy” for his infamous description of the internet) earn the love and admiration of so many in his state? Nothing is ever black and white in the land of the midnight sun.
At times the book reads like an oil tax policy primer, oftentimes like a soap opera, and occasionally like a travel brochure. From price per barrel, and pipeline negotiations the reader suddenly pops into the seedy world of back room deals, love triangles, underage sex for drugs, nepotism, political favors, vengeance, and personalities as large as the wilderness they inhabit.
Coyne and Hopfinger explain how our nascent state got here. Where we go now is anyone’s guess. Alaska politically, geologically, and culturally is a dynamic and unpredictable work in progress. Many of the colorful characters portrayed in Crude Awakening have moved on – some dead, some in prison, some fled the state for greener and more lucrative pastures. But some of the players are still here and the characters they all played, from the broad-minded dreamers to the Corrupt Bastards, all remain (albeit with different faces and names). The tug o’ war over Alaska’s resources and how best to develop and tax them rages on. We, as a state, are ready in some ways to leave our wild youth behind, but geographic isolation, an economy which is still very much reliant on oil, and that same cast of untamable characters means that anything is possible. Alaska’s next fifty years promises a book that is just as entertaining and intriguing as Crude Awakening.
There’s another thing you often hear around these parts. “You just can’t make this stuff up.” In Alaska, you don’t have to.