WASILLA — In November 1975, Joe McGinniss arrived in Alaska via ferry. Over the months that followed, he traveled extensively around the state interviewing political leaders and average folk.
The resultant book, "Going to Extremes," which came out in 1980, became a best seller. It presented a portrait of a juvenile society in transition, emerging from wilderness self-reliance into layered modern complexity, driven by the sudden rush of pipeline construction and oil money.
This summer, he resumed temporary residence in Alaska to research his next book -- this one about Sarah Palin -- and rented a house in Wasilla next to the former governor's place.
The rental is a medium-large two-story dwelling with a detached single car garage. The driveway is posted "no trespassing" and guarded by a yellow chain barrier. It passes by outbuildings and abandoned vehicles. Under sunny skies on Friday, the deck offered glorious views of Lake Lucille and the Chugach Mountains. The lawn in front of the deck, sloping to a dock on the lake, hadn't been mowed for a while.
McGinniss, who turns 68 in December, sat on the deck of the house casually dressed in a denim jacket, sneakers (but no socks) and a baseball cap from Homer's Salty Dog saloon. The bare living room showed signs of packing up. He said he planned to fly out on Sunday. And he talked about "Going to Extremes," which has become an enduring part of Alaska's written record.
The book struck a chord with a national audience. With John McPhee's "Coming into the Country," it remains one of the best known books from Alaska's pipeline era. Still studied and debated, the two volumes are perhaps the most-read literature to come from this part of the world in the century between "Call of the Wild" (1903) and "Going Rogue" (2009).
Many current residents admit to being fascinated by McGinniss' report even before they moved to Alaska. Millions of stateside readers found themselves drawn to his depiction not just of scenery and nature, but of the characters who lived there.
It struck a nerve with a lot of Alaskans too. Some felt that they'd been misrepresented or had their dirty secrets exposed.
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