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The Cruelist Miles


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About the Author

Gay Salisbury is the former associate publisher of Basic Books. She splits her time between Fairbanks, Alaska, and New York City. Laney Salisbury, a Columbia Journalism School graduate, has reported from Africa, the Middle East, and New York. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


"No one understands Alaska. [Officials in Washington] wire me to step over to Nome to look up a little matter, not realizing that it takes me 11 days to get there." That's the state's governor, Scott Bone, in 1922, three years before the distant, former Gold Rush outpost would need help combating an incipient diphtheria epidemic. As the Salisbury cousins amply demonstrate, upstate Alaska during winter was about as alien and forbidding as the moon-total isolation, endless night, bizarre acoustics, unreliably frozen rivers, and 60-below temperatures eventually causing both body and mind to shut down altogether. Under these circumstances, the 674-mile dogsled journey required to bring Nome the desperately needed serum seemed destined to fail, to put it mildly. The authors rightly frame the undertaking as the last gasp of an ancient technology before the impending arrival of air and road travel. As soon as news of the situation reached the "lower 48," it instantly became headline fodder for weeks. The book demonstrates the remarkable intimacy mushers develop with their lead dogs-only a handful of sled dogs have the character, courage, intelligence and will to be the lead dog. Especially heroic were renowned musher Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Balto, who undertook the treacherous and long final leg; the dog is immortalized by a statue in New York City's Central Park. The journey itself occupies the second half of the book; the authors judiciously flesh out the story with fascinating background information about Nome, the Gold Rush, dogsledding and Alaska. This is an elegantly written book, inspiring tremendous respect for the hardy mushers and their canine partners. (June 9) Forecast: Similar in tone and pull to tales like Seabiscuit or In the Heart of the Sea, this book has the potential to become a considerable seller, helped along by print ads, and author tour and media interviews. And who won't want to read a stirring tale of kids in peril and noble dogs? Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Isolated by geography and blizzard conditions in the winter of 1925 as the ravages of diphtheria threatened to take a deadly toll, Nome, AK, desperately needed help. The only way to get serum in was by dogsled, and this book tells the story of the courageous men and their canine companions who braved incredible adversity to save the town. The real heroes were the dogs, especially the team leaders, and their interaction with and interdependence on humans makes tales of the Iditarod pale by comparison. (A statue in New York's Central Park honors one of the dogs, Balto.) In a consistently gripping account that supplants the only other book on the saga, Kenneth Ungermann's The Race to Nome, the authors, cousins who both have a background in journalism, offer a carefully researched and well-written account of this event. This work is sure to appeal to a wide readership. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/03.]-Jim Casada, emeritus, Winthrop Univ., Rock Hill, SC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-Many readers are familiar with the story of the dog Balto and the Nome, AK, diphtheria outbreak of 1925 and how 20 men and more than 200 dogs raced 674 miles against time and weather to save a community. The Salisburys provide a complete account of that feat-the first book in 40 years to do so-and, perhaps, introduce readers to two of the most crucial and courageous characters in this drama, Leonhard Seppala and his peerless lead dog, Togo. The authors supply a constant flow of interesting facts about Nome, the introduction of Siberian Huskies to Alaska, the beginnings of the Alaska airline industry, and why air delivery of the serum was discounted as an option. The heart of the book, however, is the run itself. Readers will be on tenterhooks as they follow the mushers and their dogs through minus-60-degree temperatures, unbroken trails, "ice fog," treacherous ice floes, gales, and blizzards, from the January day when Dr. Curtis Welsh realized that he faced an epidemic with only three nurses and an outdated supply of serum to that early morning less than five days later when Gunnar Kaasen and his Balto-led dogsled team arrived in Nome, exhausted and frostbitten, and carrying the new serum. At a time when a cost/benefit analysis is a major precursor to action, this book is a refreshing look at the lengths people and their devoted animals went to simply because, as one musher put it, "I wanted to help."-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Quite literally a cliff hanger." -- Emily Carter - Minneapolis Star Tribune "Stirring passages detailing the rigors of dogsledding, the bond between man and beast, and the importance of a good lead dog make for irresistible Jack London kind of stuff." -- David Stress - Seattle Weekly "Sequence by sequence the Salisburys have written not only about a race but also about our Alaskan history and the hardy people who first came, both Native and non-Native, to make our history so rich." -- Velma Wallis, author of Two Old Women "A scrupulously researched, cleanly written account that makes for a rollicking good adventure." -- Alice King - Entertainment Weekly "This a moving story, superbly researched and deftly told." -- Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm

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