Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt



by William G. Robbins and Katrine Barber

The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2011.

Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, index. 312 pages.

$55.00 cloth. $24.95 paper.

This is an important book for several reasons. While several histories of the Pacific Northwest already exist, none of their authors concentrates mainly on the region's twentieth-century history. Traditionally, in fact, the region's nineteenth-century history received the most attention because it was during that time that its events were most clearly differentiated from those occurring in the rest of the nation. During the twentieth century, the two histories seemed to blend into one national narrative. But by using the Pacific Northwest's noticeable affinity for nature as their principal organizing theme, William G. Robbins and Katrine Barber have given the region's twentieth-century history the full attention it has long deserved.

Even better, Robbins and Barber not only have written an excellent history of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, the usual components of Pacific Northwest history, but they also have cast a wide net that includes western Montana and British Columbia. Their inclusion of Canadian history is of especially great significance because it involves surmounting the always-challenging task of making meaningful transnational comparisons and contrasts. Hence, their concept of a North Pacific Slope encompassing both western Canada and the American Northwest is highly ambitious yet pleasingly successful. And graceful, I might hasten to add. The temptation in this type of cross-border comparative history is for authors to adopt a rather mechanical approach that resembles the predictable swings of a large clock pendulum: on the one hand this took place in the United States, while on the other hand that took place in Canada. Robbins and Barber, however, have achieved an almost seamless integration of the two, often using the medium of well-chosen capsule biographies to introduce their cross-border themes in a highly interesting manner. …