I first heard Ross Coen before I met him. This was years ago at KUAC. Ross was a volunteer host and I was immediately caught by his engaging on-air presence and terrific set of pipes. When I actually met him I was further impressed by his intelligence and great sense of humor. As so often happens at public radio stations, Ross moved on and I lost track of him. That was until about five years ago when I spotted a copy of his book The Long View on the shelves of a local book store. When I cracked the book open I found a wide selection of short essays on Alaska’s history, all of them informative and exhibiting the same engaging style as his on-air hosting.
Right now, Ross is finishing up a PhD in History from the University of Washington in Seattle, but he already has publication credits any tenured professor would envy. Besides academic articles he is the author of two other books: Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil, which charts the voyage of the oil tanker SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage, and Fu-go that explores high altitude balloon bombs the Japanese sent aloft towards the U.S. during World War Two. Fu-go also sparked a delightful Radiolab episode that explores the story.
I caught up with Ross last month when he was giving a talk about who owns Alaska’s history. So I began by asking him if today there was a definitive historical narrative to own.