Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: 'The Cruelest Miles' by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury

✰✰✰✰ The harsh winters of Alaska are legendary, but in 1925 a deadly diphtheria epidemic raged through the land and created a crisis like none before. Earlier in the year, the town doctor had realized that his supply of diphtheria antitoxin had expired. Although he ordered more, it failed to arrive on the last ship before the town became icebound. In all his years practicing medicine in Nome, Dr. Welch rarely had call to use the medicine, so he wasn’t worried. Unfortunately soon children were suffering from symptoms of severe sore throats. At first it looked like tonsillitis, but the germs at work proved to be a lot more deadly and fast. With a blizzard rapidly approaching, the only chance to save the people of Nome depended on teams of sled dogs. Twenty mushers and their dogs, the most famous of which was Balto, participated in the 1925 Serum Run. This is the thrilling journey that inspired the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska.    

The Bottom Line: While this debut book by two cousins is sometimes repetitive, it is a quick, compelling read that keeps you hanging. With no roads, rails, flights, or boats available, this is a story of courage, survival, and adventure. It became a race against both time and the elements where the slightest miscalculation can cost you your life. Additionally, this book explores the bond between man and dog. Also, included in the book are many fascinating historical tidbits, black and white photos, and a map. Enthusiastically recommended for dog lovers, nonfiction aficionados, and history lovers.

Book Club Notes: This was a quick read for the group to tackle. While many of us were familiar with the story of Balto, it was interesting to learn about the other mushers and dogs involved in the serum run. The men pushed themselves and the dogs to their physical limits. Without hesitation, many sacrifices were made, not for glory, but simply to help fellow humans. It was also interesting to learn about life in Alaska including local folklore and native culture. It's all about survival and helping others in need. Overall, we gave this book an average of 4 stars. Most of us enjoyed the history and trivia included in the book. However, a few members disliked the trivia while others simply lost interest in the writing style. Groups considering this book can find a reading group guide at W. W. Norton & Company, Inc

Details: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury. Paperback published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2003. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-393-32570-6

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