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Pitch of the day: Rice historian Douglas Brinkley turns attention to preservation of Alaskan frontier in new book

Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley has written a new account of the 80-year struggle over what to do with the more than half a million square miles of rugged, sparsely populated territory known as Alaska. Douglas Brinkley portrait

“The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom, 1879-1960” (Harper Collins) recounts the efforts of environmentalists and the federal government to contain the excesses of the fur, timber, coal, fishing and oil industries in the territory, which became the 49th state in 1959.

Ever since “Seward’s folly,” Alaska has held a place in the American imagination, Brinkley said. Some saw strategic value, others saw abundant economic resources, while still others thought of Alaska as the nation’s last unspoiled wilderness and fought to preserve it.

Brinkley’s narrative deals with an assortment of historical figures who played a role in Alaska’s development, including John Muir, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, William O. Douglas, Walt Disney and Dwight D. Eisenhower. To write “The Quiet World,” Brinkley mined a dozen archival sites, including the Library of Congress, Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters in Shepherdstown, W.Va. To get better acquainted with wild Alaska, he camped in the Arctic, sailed the Aleutians and hiked the Denali Wilderness while spending months living in the state.

The book’s publication coincides with the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s executive order that created Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Brinkley, who is a professor of history at Rice University and a fellow in history at Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, is a prolific writer who is perhaps best known as the author of four biographies, “Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years” (1992), “Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal,” with Townsend Hoopes (1992), “The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House” (1998) and “Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress” (2003), as well as the best-selling histories “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc; Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion” (2005), “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War” (2004) and “Parish Priest: Father McGivney and American Catholicism” (2006).

Brinkley’s “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (2006) won the prestigious 2007 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He edited “The Reagan Diaries,” which was released in 2007. And last year’s “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America” chronicles how the 26th president transformed his interest in the outdoors into edicts that preserved such sites as the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower and the Petrified Forest.

To schedule an interview with Brinkley, members of the news media should contact David Ruth at druth@rice.edu or 713-348-6327.


Located in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked one of America’s best teaching and research universities. Known for its “unconventional wisdom,” Rice is distinguished by its: size — 3,279 undergraduates and 2,277 graduate students; selectivity — 12 applicants for each place in the freshman class; resources — an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 5-to-1; sixth largest endowment per student among American private research universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines, integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate work.

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