I have always been fascinated by how people would drop everything, and go to faraway places to look for gold in horrendous conditions. So when I was contacted by Laurel Downing Bill to participate in a virtual blog tour for her books about the history of Alaska, I jumped at the chance of learning more about the Gold Rush.
Laurel Downing Bill is a third generation Alaskan who was born in Fairbanks in 1951. She spent her childhood in Juneau, and then traveled to Africa, Asia and Europe with her parents as her father worked for a company that built roads and bridges around the world. All this traveling opened the author’s eyes to other cultures and to world history. At the age of 19, Laurel Downing Bill came back to Alaska, married and had 2 children and a foster daughter. In 1993, the author inherited her aunt Phyllis Downing Carlson’s research and books on Alaska. Her aunt was a respected historian and librarian in Anchorage. Laurel Downing Bill didn’t want all this research to go to waste, so she decided to write about the history of Alaska, but she thought she lacked the necessary knowledge to write properly. So she went back to school in her late forties to study journalism with a minor in history.
Laurel Downing Bill started by writing about history in 2002 in a weekly column in the newspaper The Anchorage Chronicle. The author saw that people were interested in the history of Alaska, so she decided to write a book. She used her aunt’s research but there were holes in the story. For example, her aunt didn’t talk about Juneau, the capital of Alaska. So the author did her own research to fill these gaps. Another challenge was to try to make history compelling. Unfortunately, history books are usually very dry and boring, and the author wanted to avoid this. Laurel Downing Bill also wanted to write in the same tone as her aunt Phil. The result are short stories in a narrative style storytelling. In fact, the books have a conversational tone, and cliffhangers at the end of chapters keep the reader wanting to know what comes next. Each book includes more than 300 photos which is quite a feat since the author had to find the right pictures to go with the text, and buy the rights in order to be able to use them. Each photo cost from $5 to $250, and she had to hire a photographer to clean them up because some of them were damaged or too dark.
Aunt Phil’s Trunk Vol. 1 and 2 are impressive and absorbing books. The first volume starts when the first Natives settled in Alaska thousands of years ago, and ends during the Klondike Gold Rush. The second volume covers the period from 1900 to 1912. These 2 books alone taught me many things about Alaska. For example, I didn’t know that the state was Russian before becoming American. I also loved the anecdotes about outlaws such as Soapy Smith or Wyatt Earp. In addition, the photos were great additions to the books as they make history come alive. I wish I had books like these when I was growing up. History would have seemed a lot more interesting!
If you like the first 2 volumes, there is a volume 3 (from 1912 to 1935), a volume 4 (from 1935 to 1960), and the author is currently working on volume 5, the last in the series, that will cover Alaska’s history from 1960 to 2000.
About the author and her work: Aunt Phil’s Trunk Website
Aunt Phil’s Trunk Vol. 1 and 2 were sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
If you would like to win the first 2 volumes in the series, please participate in the giveaway below.