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Book Review: Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth

I might not have discovered Kings of the Yukon so soon if Adam Weymouth’s book hadn’t been shortlisted for the PFD/Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Last year, I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers’ event in London where we met the authors, who read excerpts and answered questions, before copies of each book were available for us to take home.

The Yukon River is almost 2,000 miles long, flowing through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea.

Setting out to explore one of the most ruggedly beautiful and remote regions of North America, Adam Weymouth journeyed by canoe on a four-month odyssey through this untrammelled wilderness, encountering the people who have lived there for generations.

The Yukon’s inhabitants have long depended on the king salmon who each year migrate the entire river to reach their spawning grounds.

Now the salmon numbers have dwindled, and the encroachment of the modern world has changed the way of life on the Yukon, perhaps for ever.

Adam Weymouth canoes downriver through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea when the salmon he is hoping to encounter should be making their way upstream to their spawning grounds. What he finds along the way is evidence of the extent to which the river connects everyone who lives in and around it; how what happens on one stretch ripples through to others, be they around the nearest bend in the river or hundreds of miles away and across a man-made border.

Kings of the Yukon details the alarming levels of change and damage done and it’s not simply because there are inherent difficulties in balancing subsistence fishing with commercial practices while also ensuring a healthy ecosystem. This doesn’t simply boil down to being a numbers game; it’s the size and therefore weight of the individual salmon which is shrinking, as well. And changes in fishing practices aren’t the only ones to have affected the river and its fish (and human) population; the discovery and commercial exploitation of oil and gold in the region have taken their toll, sometimes in unforeseen ways and not always in the most obvious of places.

If any book can help us to see the connection between living creatures, be they sprawling humans or spawning fish, and their environment, it is this one. While also being sadly indicative of what is happening in so many ecosystems around our planet, Kings of the Yukon is an enlightening and sensitive look at the plight of the salmon and people along this almost 2,000-mile stretch of river, highlighting the need for collaborative work across borders, as well as between interest groups, when looking for solutions.

Undertaking a journey of this nature is impressive enough on its own without what Adam Weymouth achieves through his account of it. In Kings of the Yukon he manages to successfully blend the journey he makes together with conversations he has with people living and working along his route and the stark statistics and research conducted on salmon numbers and migration patterns into a gratifying whole.

That this flows so well and doesn’t snag on anything along the way is what makes Kings of the Yukon such an impactful piece of travel/nature/environmental writing. It almost feels as if Adam Weymouth is telling you the story of the river, its salmon population and the humans who live and work it while you’re canoeing along with him. I’d urge you to go on this Alaskan River Journey; it’s a wild and beautiful one.

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth is published by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Books UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback with the paperback publication scheduled for 6 June. You can buy it from Amazon UK and Hive which supports your local independent bookshop. Winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2018 and the Lonely Planet Adventure Travel Book of the Year 2019. For more on the author, check out his Author Website or follow him on Twitter.

My thanks to the publisher and the PFD/Sunday Times Young Writer Award for the book.

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