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Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival Hardcover – March 4, 2014


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Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival + In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette + The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062218298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062218292
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1810, two years after the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the American continent, wealthy fur merchant John Jacob Astor financed an overland and overseas expedition to build the equivalent of a Jamestown settlement on the Pacific Coast. Over a three-year period, separate groups, comprising a hodgepodge of Americans, French, and Scottish Canadians, set out for the coast. The Tonquin sailed for six months from Boston to the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest to create an outpost from which to circumnavigate between China, the eastern U.S., and Europe, to take advantage of the rage for otter pelts. At the same time, 140 adventurers and investors set off in two parties, one crossing the treacherous Rockies; nearly half of them died. Stark, author of Last Breath (2001) and The Last Empty Spaces (2010), offers a thrilling true-adventure tale filled with unforgettable characters, clashes of culture, ambition, and physical hardships from starvation to Indian attacks to cruel weather. A breathtaking account of an expedition that changed the geography of a young nation and its place in global commerce and politics. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“Stark’s delightful narrative is proof that even though Astor didn’t leave the legacy he intended, his grand failure certainly deserves its own place in history.” (New York Times Book Review)

“In Astoria, Peter Stark recounts the colony’s history as a fast-paced, enjoyable adventure tale.” (Wall Street Journal)

“In his new book, Astoria ... Stark moves skillfully back and forth from one segment of the splintered expedition to another. He also raises a tantalizing question about the enterprise as a whole.” (Washington Post)

“[Descriptive] passages . . . make Stark’s fine book truly distinctive. They raise Astoria above the level of a well-done historical adventure and help the reader get into a scene and understand the context or see relationships between participants and between then and now.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Peter Stark’s Astoria is a vivid recreation of an era when the Pacific Northwest was a vast unexploited wilderness, with Astoria as its main American colony. . . . Stark is particularly strong in describing the wilderness and its effects on human psychology.” (Seattle Times)

“Stark tells their grim story well . . . ‘Astoria’ is a well-written . . . account of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to found a commercial empire in the Pacific Northwest. It illuminates the cultural limits of the American approach to frontier expansion.” (Portland Oregonian)

“In this harrowing historical tale of adventure and hardship, journalist Peter Stark re-creates a largely forgotten 19th-century expedition-during which one group crossed the Rockies and another sailed around Cape Horn-to establish America’s first colony on the Pacific Northwest coast.” (Parade Magazine)

“A fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death. [Stark] recovers a remarkable piece of history: the story of America’s first colony on the continent’s West coast.” (Kirkus (Starred Review))

“A page-turning tale of ambition, greed, politics, survival, and loss.” (Publishers Weekly)

“New York businessman Astor, with support from President Jefferson, launched two expeditions in 1810 - overland and by ship ... and Stark recounts the perilous journeys.” (New York Post)

“The story of its founders is harshly inspiring, a deeply researched look into the irresistible drive to explore the unknown and the capacity of people to survive, not only the elements, but one another.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“... a thrilling true-adventure tale ... A breathtaking account of an expedition that changed the geography of a young nation and its place in global commerce and politics.” (Booklist)

“Author Peter Stark retraces the journey in spellbinding detail, making use of journals to get inside the minds of these explorers who set out just two years after Lewis and Clark successfully crossed the continent. . . . Astoria brings to life a harrowing era of American exploration.” (Bookpage)

“Stark’s compelling, contextual account of Astoria’s founding—at one time documented by none other than author Washington Irving - casts this early venture as a pivotal point in the development of the Pacific Northwest and the nation.” (Crosscut (Seattle))

“For better or worse, the precedents set by Astor and his expeditions created a tangible American legacy of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and manifest destiny. Carefully researched and splendidly written—an utterly spellbinding account.” (Bellingham Herald)

“A great yarn set in our own corner of the continent.” (Inlander)

“A valuable book . . .but more importantly for my perspective, it’s really good reading.” (Nancy Pearl on NPR's "Morning Edition")

“Astoria is ultimately worth reading not just because it’s about Oregon history, but because it contextualizes Oregon’s past within American history. . . . The book is a welcome departure from romanticized tales of Lewis and Clark or of later pioneers.” (Portland Mercury)

“Stark vividly writes of fur trader John Jacob Astor’s capitalist quest … [a] fascinating account… that never loses its focus.” (Library Journal)

“Well researched and historically accurate, [Astoria] reads much like an adventure novel, engaging you from start to finish.” (Coast Weekend)

“Peter Stark does readers a very large service in reminding us about this extraordinary and important piece of North American history. I can’t recommend Astoria highly enough for anyone interested in the colonization of the American West.” (BookBrowse.com)

“A truly great adventure story, filled with high drama and hardship that would put ‘Survivor’ cast members into a tailspin of humility.” (BookReporter.com)

“Peter Stark’s Astoria picks up where the Lewis and Clark Expedition leaves off, providing a fascinating and sometimes terrifying window into the brutal and acquisitive essence of not only America but of the human condition. It’s also a great and ... an ennobling tale of survival. Highly recommended.” (Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Bunker Hill, and In the Heart of the Sea)

“Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head.” (Albany Times Union)

“A splendid account of the man and men who had the audacity, passion, and courage to dream of an American Empire. Peter Stark’s Astoria is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the power of leadership in its purest form.” (Stephenie Ambrose-Tubbs, author of The Lewis and Clark Companion)

“Peter Stark leaps aboard at the very beginning of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Northwest enterprise, then clings tenaciously to witness every twist, by land and by sea, along the entire desperate ride.” (Jack Nisbet, author of Sources of the River and The Collector)

“This saga of ambition and adventure and courage is vividly told and thoroughly researched, a not very well known story of ambition confounded. Shipwrecks, bloodiness, and starve-to-death treks through drifted snow in the Rockies-Astoria is a hard-edged beauty.” (William Kittredge, author of A Hole in the Sky)

Astoria is a scintillating corrective to the “guts and glory” school of American history and economics. [...] Grandiose visions ... have consequences, and Peter Stark’s depiction of the body count that results from this one unfolds with the inevitability of a fine tragedy and comedic zing of a good action flick. (David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why)

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Customer Reviews

The book was very well written and researched.
Janet Weiner
John Jacob Astor, an immigrant from Germany, had a vision of building a great trading empire around the colonization of the Pacific northwest.
Rick Mitchell
The problem being it was going to be very hard to pick the next book you were going to read because it will never come close to this one?
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Robert Steven Thomas TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Peter Stark deserves a great amount of praise for this remarkable book. Some of the finest literary work grows from the roots of intriguing events in human history that are not well known or remembered. Set at the beginning of the 1800s and based on a historical expedition which was championed by Thomas Jefferson and funded by John Jacob Astor, known as the Astor Expedition, it is the excellently researched and written story of two groups of explorers who set out to establish a new American colony and shipping port in the unexplored Pacific Northwest. The hardships and challenges these groups encountered along their way reads like an intense, action-adventure. As I was reading this book I couldn't help but imagine what a great script it would make for an award-winning movie. This lost chapter in America's formation will gather and hold the imagination of most readers. Definitely Five Stars.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Susan Gebhardt on March 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A riveting tale of part of our American history that many people would not know without the introduction of this true story beautifully written by Peter Stark. I've been to Astoria , a town that I always thought was smoldering with some long forgotten history..but at the same time a town that seemed like it never caught on! Now I know why. The history and the way this author wove it thru the book, bringing it alive, as if it happened yesterday, ways amazing. And, tremendous research with regard to the people involved , surprising and balanced tenure , not didactic, , insightful observations, what a wonderful early American legacy otherwise largely forgotten.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Sinohey TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Readers interested in American history, grandiose exploits, derring-do and undaunted courage will relish this terrific book by Peter Stark, renowned author of nonfiction works of adventure & exploration (The last Empty Spaces) and endurance (The limits of Adventure). He is a frequent contributor to "Outside" magazine.

The story of the Astor Expedition was well publicized in the 19th century by Washington Irving's best seller (Astoria/1836) and several other reports by men who returned from the three year trek. Eventually, the failed epic faded from public memory and was lost in the fog of history until it was rediscovered by Stark.

The driving impetus of the expedition was the control of the Pacific Northwest territory to dominate the lucrative fur trade and prevent it from falling under Russian or British authority. German-born John Jacob Astor (1763 -1848), one of the wealthiest men of all time ($111 Billion today), financed the enterprise while garnering the support of President Thomas Jefferson under the guise of acquiring more land for the nascent USA. So in 1810, Just four years after the conclusion of the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery expedition, Astor recruited about 140 men, that set out as " two parties of voyageurs, traders and clerks to the mouth of the Columbia River at the border of the present-day states of Oregon and Washington" for the conquest of more North American territory and to establish a trading post.

The Overland party, led by Wilson Price Hunt, (1783-1842), a fur trader employee of Astor, included French-Canadian voyageurs, American woodsmen, hunters, guides, Scottish fur traders, and Pierre & Marie Dorion. The former, "a half-Sioux interpreter...and son of Old Dorion, interpreter for Lewis and Clark".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By W. Dart on April 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I did not just read this book. I devoured it. As review author Lawrence Gonzales states on the rear of the dust cover, "..gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head." This was exactly the way I felt reading this excellent book. I have explored the Columbia and Snake rivers including, the Columbia bar, Astoria, their confluence, Hanford Reach, Hells Canyon and east to South Pass (in astronomically greater comfort) and was exhilarated to realize I had trodden the very path of these explorers. I had never heard of this dual expedition before and I could not put it down. Peter Stark weaves a tale that is smooth yet detailed and covers relevant explanatory side paths . The fore and aft character descriptions flesh out the story wonderfully. Other reviewers have covered the book in detail so no need here, just read it. I don't know what I can read next that will surpass this book, whatever it is, it will anti-climatic..
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frank L. Smith on April 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First book I have read from Peter Stark. Superb writing enhances a great saga of wealth, entrepreneurship, greed, ambition, racism and human inhumanity (although Stark pleasantly spares the reader most gory details - for the most part). The chronology is somewhat challenging and the geography almost as difficult for the reader as the explorers. A few more maps , at least one with the current lower 48 overlaid, might help many readers lost without their Garmin or iPhone. The book is in many ways fascinating but seemed to me to end abruptly. Nevertheless, I very much appreciated the "what happened to our protagonist and antagonists", a feature not uncommon in historical pieces of late. (Thank you, Jeff Shaara). And, the real imprimatur is the story of how the story came to be written.
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