Big Miracle

Tom Rose. Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-62519-1
Rose presents the story of what might have been a nonevent: three gray whales become trapped beneath the spreading ice in an early Arctic freeze in September 1988. So many whales suffer the same fate each year, the mostly Eskimo residents of the nearby Alaskan settlement of Barrow find nothing unusual in the stranding. Yet when Eskimo whaler Roy Ahmoagak informs two scientists from the local wildlife center of the whales’ plight, he sets off a media avalanche that descends on the tiny subsistence whaling village in a storm of flashbulbs and news helicopters. Soon, the nation is riveted to the story, and the rescue attempt known as Operation Breakthrough snowballs, taking on oil magnates, Greenpeace activists, Eskimos, the National Guard, and even the Soviets. The book is most compelling when it focuses on the simple drama of the whales’ plight and the extraordinary lives the people of Barrow eke from the harsh elements; it’s less interesting when it strays into anti–big government polemics and caricatures of “limousine liberal” environmentalists. (Rose’s day job is as a conservative talk radio host.) Yet by the end of the book, Rose’s depictions of the prime players grows more nuanced, as he zeroes in on the surprising tale of how three creatures sparked a global effort that united warring factions in sheer awe at the bulky yet graceful denizens of this stark and little-understood world. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/2011
Release date: 12/20/2011
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