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Canoeing & Paddling Book Reviews

We love paddling and we love books, check this page often to see our latest recommendations on canoeing books and media.


Beyond Time:
Poems from North of the Tension Line

Larry Christianson (Paperback - Aug 2008)

If winter dreams of next summer's canoe trips have left you longing for the calm of a northern lake or the challenge of the portage, Larry Christianson's poetry will have you back there in no time. In spirit, at least.

The Minnesota poet and pastor explores the essence of the wilderness experience in his new book, Beyond Time, Poems from North of the Tension Line. Drawing from 35 years of canoe country travel, he brings to life the wilderness moments that lend themselves to quiet reflection and sudden insight through his contemplation of the golden twilight hour or even the nighttime visit of a black bear. Read More >


All Things Are Possible, The Verlen Kruger Story: 10,000 Miles by Paddle
Phil Peterson Sr. (Hardcover - June 2006)

Reviewed by: Charlie If you’ve recently decided to become the greatest canoe-tripper of all time, to cross continents, to brave coasts, to risk friendships and family to reach your goal … spare yourself. It’s been done already and it’s unlikely to ever be outdone. Don’t believe us? Just pick up a copy of Phil Peterson Sr.’s All Things are Possible – The Verlen Kruger Story: 100,000 Miles by Paddle, the biography of a man with the ambition, endurance, and single-mindedness to achieve his full measure of the highs and lows that come from dedicating a life to a single ambition. Read More >


This Water Goes North
Dennis Weidemann (Hardcover - Sep 2008)

Reviewed by: Charlie Three days into a 1979 canoe trip intended to take Dennis Weidemann and three companions from western Minnesota to York Factory on Hudson’s Bay, disaster struck. Luckily for Weidemann and his canoe-mate, the canoe filled with water and plowed through the branches – “like a waterlogged bulldozer” – giving the lucky young paddlers a second chance after encountering one of paddling’s most deadly hazards. The book is illustrated with color photographs from the trip but, alas, not with maps of the route, a common shortcoming in canoeing books. Weidemann’s story of the trip is nicely paced. An epilogue collects thoughts from people who encountered the paddlers nearly 30 years ago, although where-are-they-now profiles of Wiedemann’s trip-mates would have been more welcome.

For a fine story about the dreams, resilience, and joys of youth – and youth remembered – This Water Goes North is a trip well worth taking... Read More >



Daughter Father Canoe
Rob Kesselring (Paperback - Feb 2003)

Reviewed by: Jan Dettmer I met Rob Kesselring, the author of this book, on a barren land river. That was in 1996 and since then I kept in touch with him. When he first told me, on the shores of the Finnie River, that he wintered on the edge of the barrens once, I was eager to hear more from him. I wanted to hear more stories, but, far too soon, a plane came to pick up his party. OK, we spend a few days together but there was really no time for story telling, since we were busy with "moskitoe contests" and killing Ptarmigans with rocks. Just recently, I heard that, after many years of writing, he finally finished his book on the Snowdrift River trip, he did with his daughter Lara in 1993. So, I ordered the book! The Book: The main theme of the book is a 4 week trip down the Snowdrift River. However, the trip itself is just the backbone for the real story that describes the complex relationship or connection between Lara and Rob. Lara, then 14 years old, is Robs daughter. Who would take his 14 year old daughter on a canoe trip into the wilderness of NWT to come of age? The daughter-father relationship started in Fort Resolution, NWT, in the late 70ies. Rob was working as a teacher in a school, mainly teaching natives. Reading the book, you will notice that the years the author spent in the north play a key role in his life. Indeed, the north was always with him, he never really left. Therefore it is quite natural that the whole book accumulates a lot of northern stories written with a phantastic easiness. Once you note that, you have the answer for the above question. Rob gives a quite intimate view of the relationship that was building between him and his daughter and was chiefly influenced by their wilderness trip. The book is not a trip report! And this is exactly what I like most about the book. At the same time, it is strikingly clear that the NWT wilderness was the only place where the bonding could have taken place. The wilderness was the fertile ground to strengthen the relation between both and build up self-confidence in Lara. Everybody who went on a long wilderness trip, knows this phenomenon. To experience nature gives you a deep insight into your own soul and you open up and are able to connect. Once you get back, you realize that it was more than seeing great scenery and crystel clear water. I highly recommend reading this book. It won't take long and you might find yourself intentionally slowing you down, just to make it last longer. Besides "A death on the Barrens" by George Grinell, "Daughter Father Canoe" is my favorite book of the last years. I read it twice.


Weekend Canoeing in Michigan
The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns

Doc Fletcher (Paperback - Jun 2008)

Reviewed by: Charlie Weekend Canoeing is a fun read and not a bad source for info on 20 popular Michigan rivers. There’s good, basic river and outfitter information for day-trips all across Michigan. (Stick with Jerry Dennis’ and Craig Date’s Canoeing Michigan Rivers if you prefer a more sober guidebook that covers rivers in greater detail — and with maps.) Weekend Canoeing’s unselfconscious, do-it-yourself style – under-edited copy, posed photos of the author’s paddling pals (often shirtless), recurring Pabst Blue Ribbon references – is charming in its way. The book succeeds precisely because Fletcher doesn’t write the book the way a polished, professional guidebook author would.

So, if you’re curious about how the other-half paddles – and how they tune in their Tigers games en route – pull up a bar-stool and check out Weekend Canoeing in Michigan... Read More >


Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country
Robin and Arlene Karpan (Hardcover - Jun 2008)

Reviewed by: Charlie If the names of Northern Saskatchewan’s rivers — the Churchill, the Clearwater, the Fond du Lac, the Sturgeon-weir — aren’t enough to beckon you to paddle on them, then perhaps the photos in Robin and Arlene Karpan’s book will finally send you down one in a canoe. The couple’s Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country (Parkland Publishing, $34.95) shows the region’s canoe routes in their full photographic splendor.

The book’s text straddles the paths of “trip narrative” and “guide book.” The authors describe the book’s fifteen routes largely by describing their own trips and peppering those personal stories with historical notes, basic route information, and for-further-reference book suggestions. The narratives are informative and, along with a back-of-the-book reference section, point the reader to the more in-depth information needed for trip planning.

The Karpans’ fine photos of their stunning region make Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Country an important addition to the canoe library of the area... Read More >


The Old Way North: Following the Oberholtzer-Magee Expedition
David Pelly
(Hardcover - 2008)

Reviewed by: Charlie Ernest Oberholtzer’s 1912 canoe journey from The Pas, Manitoba to Hudson’s Bay and back to civilization via the Lake Winnipeg railhead at Gimli has long fascinated expedition paddlers. Oberholtzer and his Anishinaabe paddling partner Billy Magee covered 2,000 miles – the remotest of them unexplored by non-natives – in 144 days on trail. The two scrambled back to the south with winter closing in on them.

Along with P.G. Downes’ trip into the same region two decades later, Oberholtzer and Magee’s expedition is the pioneering recreational canoe trip into the far north. The hundreds of paddlers who nowadays set off down the rivers of the boreal forest and the barrenlands each summer paddle in the wake of Oberholtzer and Downes, seeking many of the same experiences these predecessors did.on... Read More >


A Guide to Paddling in the Yukon
Ken Madsen and Peter Mather
(Paperback - Nov 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie Like a canoe that tracks straight and maneuvers well, Ken Madsen and Peter Mather’s A Guide to Paddling in the Yukon is a fine book for two reasons: it’s a helpful guidebook for canoeing and kayaking in the Yukon territory and it’s a worthy “coffee table book” thanks to its striking collection of color photos. As a guidebook, Paddling is nicely constructed. For each of the 73 rivers included in the book, the authors include easy-to-find information on distance, paddling duration, whitewater difficulty, access and logistics, and the topo maps required. Their descriptions of the rivers are clearly written with just enough trip-enhancing information about the human and natural history of the area in question. If there’s a quibble about the book it’s that the maps, what few there are, fall below the standard set by the rest of the book.

As a whole, however, the book is a winner. It’s both the wonderfully illustrated volume that could inspire a Yukon trip as well as the detailed guide to use when it’s time to plan the expedition... Read More >


Superior-Rendezvous Place: Fort William in the Canadian Fur Trade
Jean Morrison (Paperback - June 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie We thought it worth noting that a new edition of Jean Morrison’s Superior Rendezvous-Place: Fort William in the Canadian Fur Trade was recently published. Morrison’s history of fur trade activities in the Thunder Bay, Ontario region is a fine read for history buffs, fur trade enthusiasts, and paddlers interested in the historic routes into the Pays d’en Haut – the up-country west of Lake Superior.

The new edition makes for a nice companion to Carolyn Gilman’s The Grand Portage Story, which recounts the story of the more famous – among US citizens anyway – of the two principle routes out-bound from the western end of Gitchi Gummi. Morrison is at her detailed-packed best describing the life in, around, and flowing to and from the Fort William — describing the daily lives of natives, voyageurs, clerks, and partners. She recounts the effect of the War of 1812 on the upper Great Lakes, describes the trading battles between the Nor’westers and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and follows the story of Fort William through the absorption of the North West Company by the HBC in 1821 and until the establishment of an historic park in the area in more recent times.

For the paddler interested in the old stories about the fellow travelers in the heart of historic and modern “Canoe Country,” Morrison’s book is an essential read... Read More >


Measuring Mother Earth: How Joe the Kid Became Tyrell of the North
Heather Robertson (Hardcover - Oct 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie Paddlers drawn down the great rivers of the Canadian tundra – the Kazan, the Dubawnt, the Thelon – often find themselves crossing the path of one Joseph Burr Tyrrell.

Heather Robertson’s new biography of Tyrrell seeks to bring the well-traveled adventurer to life. Richly illustrated with archival photos, Robertson succeeds with mixed results. Her rather short book – 318 pages not including notes and source information – skips over much of Tyrrell’s early and later life, rushes his epic northern trips (for the paddler/reader anyway), and meanders too frequently in the telling of Tyrrell’s story. Robertson’s occasional, novelistically imagined scenes from Tyrrell’s life and oddly informal narrative voice proves more distracting than illuminating.

Robertson’s Tyrrell is a man propelled by his ambitions but limited by his imagination. Having stumbled upon an unknown population of inland-dwelling Inuit on the Dubawnt and Kazan Rivers, for example, he showed neither anthropological interest in studying them nor the facility with languages to bring their story to the outside. Study of the Caribou Inuit would have to wait three decades for the arrival of Knud Rasmussen.

Still, just as far northern paddles will continue to follow and cross Tyrrell’s routes, readers can do much the same with the explorer’s life on the pages of Measuring Mother Earth – catching images of an earlier traveler... Read More >


Canoeing and Kayaking Florida
Johnny Molloy, Elizabeth F. Carter, John Pearce, Lou Glaros, and Doug Sphar (Paperback - Nov 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie We’ve had a cold and snowy start to the winter in and around the offices here in Minnesota. It was a welcome surprise when the book Canoeing & Kayaking Florida (Menasha Ridge Press, $17.95) arrived in our mail. The cover shots of liquid water and green foliage and the talk, inside the book, of gators and manatees made us hanker for a little down-south, winter paddling.

The 300-plus paged book profiles more than 100 rivers, streams, and costal waterways. It boasts updated maps, ratings for solitude and scenery, and data displays of the class, length, and duration of its trips. If there’s a criticism, it’s that too much is crammed into too small a volume. The handbook sized pages cramp the photos, maps, tables, and descriptions to make for a busy look and a difficult read.

But the content in Canoeing & Kayaking Florida, however presented, is detailed and comprehensive. If the winter chill gets to be too much for us, the book will be packed with our gear for any Florida paddling we might do... Read More >


Emperor of the North: Sir George Simpson and the Remarkable Story of the Hudson's Bay Company
James Raffan (Hardcover - Sep 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie You can travel a long way in a canoe … especially when you use the simple craft to travel back in time.

And, for those paddlers who find themselves time-traveling as they move along the water, James Raffan’s new biography of Hudson’s Bay Company governor Sir George Simpson, might be just the off-season way-back vehicle they need for the coming winter months.

The Simpson that rises from the pages is a leader to respect but not a man to admire. In his wake he left a string of illegitimate children (13 children by at least eight women) as well as rumors of complicity in the murder of his nephew Thomas Simpson, who might have made a name for himself as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage, if not for his uncle’s envious obstructions.

As a time portal to an era when the canoe was king, though, Emperor of the North is a fine way to paddle back in time, Simpson’s company notwithstanding... Read More >


Paddling South: Winnipeg to New Orleans by Canoe
Rick Ranson (Paperback - Oct 2007)

Reviewed by: Charlie Two recent high school grads set out for an epic trip back in 1969 with lots of pluck, minimal prep, and a too-small 16-foot fiber-glass canoe. Their paddle up the Red River and down the Mississippi reads like a cross between Huck Finn and Easy Rider.

There’s adventure and plain-old danger all along the route. The two set off, ostensibly, to celebrate the centennial of Manitoba joining Canada. In reality they’re two young adults celebrating youth and independence. They have close-call after close-call — with dams, dead-heads, tow-boats, and ocean-going ships. They rub up against hippies, millionaires, mobsters, and prostitutes. A family paddle in the Boundary Waters it ain’t. Ranson is deft with his descriptions: The over-loaded canoe “rode like a ’53 Cadillac, all soft and heavy.” Clouds moved across the sky “like a herd of elephants.” The wide, complicated river south of St. Louis “flowed like braided rope,” “like a whole lake moving south at five miles an hour.”

But Ranson’s polish doesn’t varnish. The trip feels real, too, in Ranson’s telling. Threaded through the vignettes is the hard reality of the trip – the monotony of paddling, the real threats to life and limb, and the strain the trip took on his relationship with partner John Van Landegham. “Like a bad marriage we never made eye contact … passed the time within our own invisible walls.” Read More >

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