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A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America (Lewis & Clark Expedition) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Until a better one comes along, which is unlikely, this is now the book to read of the growing crop of works on the Louisiana Purchase in this bicentennial year. It differs from Charles Cerami's bracing Jefferson's Great Gamble by its deeper foundation of scholarly knowledge, from Roger Kennedy's overstriving Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause by being less idiosyncratic. Kukla (coauthor of Patrick Henry) offers up a splendid, beautifully written narrative focused tightly on the complex historic origins of the Purchase and on the diplomacy that pulled it off. Necessarily, his tale takes in the whole world, including the aspirations of Napoleon's failed forays into the Western Hemisphere and his resulting need for cash. But Kukla stays firmly on this side of the Atlantic. Jefferson takes center stage, but his Federalist opponents, whose sometimes disunionist machinations kept matters complex, are in the wings. Kukla's portraits of the principal diplomats-Robert Livingston and James Monroe on the American side; Talleyrand, Francois de Barbe-Marbois and Napoleon on the French-deftly illuminate the crucial mix of personality, circumstance and skill that made the United States a continental nation so early in its existence. Unlike many other historians, Kukla favors none of the story's characters but evenhandedly gives all their due. The book lacks only a grand theme to match its grand subject-what most contemporaries and all historians since have judged to be one of the most significant events in the nation's history. Nevertheless, this judicious, aptly illustrated work will gratify all its readers. Rarely does a work of history combine grace of writing with such broad authority.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the U.S and set in motion visions of Manifest Destiny; it dramatically reshaped European influence in North America and helped preserve a tentative Union while establishing it as a territorially rich land. It was also brought about by men who had never seen the Mississippi Valley, in response to political rumblings thousands of miles away. Always controversial, its introduction would eventually force the issue of slavery in the territories. Kukla's narrative wanders slowly, tributary-like, through a formative time for young America. He tells the stories of characters famous and obscure, European and American, before arriving at the story's climax, Jefferson's deal to purchase the "immense wilderness." Readers looking for an analytical edge or historical revisionism won't find it here, and Kukla's casual language may annoy academics, but history buffs will enjoy the level of detail, and the uninitiated will enjoy the thorough explanations of background events like the French Revolution. Overall, this selection is an engaging look at a key historical event, in time for its bicentennial. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Series: Lewis & Clark Expedition
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375408126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375408120
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,198,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on July 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What I learned about the Louisiana Purchase in school was pretty cut-and-dried: A bunch of very statesmanlike men wearing powdered wigs made an incredible real estate deal that more than doubled the size of the United States and enabled Manifest Destiny to happen, usually within the next five pages.
Jon Kukla did us all a service by sitting down and asking what the Louisiana Purchase actually meant to the North, the South, and the burgeoning Western Territories, both then, in the more distant future, and even now.
In 1803, New Orleans was a Caribbean port with a large population of free mulattoes, Creoles, French, and Spanish -- not to mention a sprinkling of American traders. It was like nothing that the original Thirteen Colonies ever saw, and it was but a foretaste of the rampant multiculturalism that has become a dominant feature of our lives.
Did you know that the first impulse to secession was not in the South, but in Massachusetts? The "Essex Junto," dating as far back as 1786, allowed itself to be influenced by Spain for purely regional benefits. As late as the Hartford Convention in 1815, the threat of secession was primarily a Yankee threat; only later did the South adopt it.
Jefferson, Livingston, and Monroe tread on new ground in cutting the deal: There was nothing in the new Constitution to allow them such powers, nor was there anything that expressly forbade it. And no sooner was the deal made than the United States began to face new problems, such as the expansion of slavery in the new territories. It was the Purchase that led in an almost direct line to the Missouri Compromise of 1820; and from there, to the Dred Scott Decision; and from there to the horrors of the War Between the States.
Kukla's book can be read on several levels.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Fitzgerald on April 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By the time twenty years passed after the American revolution, the young United States, already an immense country by European standards, had yet again doubled its land mass through Thomas Jefferson's Louisianan Purchase. Within the next 16 years, again due to this purchase, it would stretch across the entire North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.

The story of this land acquisition is intricate, filled with intrigue. It spans the globe including such diverse locations as Haiti, Madrid, Virginia, New York, Paris, London and New Orleans. It involved scheming, daring and negotiation between traditional contenders France, Great Britain, Spain and the United States and involved a cast of characters Hollywood could only hope for: Napoleon, Jefferson, Monroe, Livingston, Talleyrand, Jay, Wilkerson, Burr, and many, many more.

Jon Kukla does a masterful job of spinning the tale of the world's largest real estate transaction. He makes it clear that as the French Revolution, and Napoleon's empire building, rocked the Atlantic community, Spain's new world empire became increasingly vulnerable to its American and European rivals. Jefferson hoped to take Spain's territories piece by piece, while Napoleon schemed to reestablish French colonial empire in the Caribbean and North America.

Interweaving the stories of ordinary settlers and kings maneuvering on the world stage, the author depicts a world of revolutionary intrigue that transformed a small, faltering experiment in self government into a world power. And all without blood shed and for about 4 cents per acre. Exceedingly well written and with significant attention paid to key transitions and detail this is a most excellent work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Hurley VINE VOICE on April 9, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For anyone fascinated with the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, they will find this well written book an excellent precursor to that incredible exploration. The author provides fascinating detail, in easy to read style, on the major impact players involved in The acquisition of Louisiana. It all starts first with the possible separation of the New England states led by John Jay that was engineered literally under the table for an exchange of trade with Spain, sacrificing navigation and trade rights on the Mississippi. The possible road block or river tariffs enraged the Kentuckians that were ready to conquer New Orleans under the command of George Rogers Clark. Those in Kentucky were frustrated by a lack of action by the original colonial states to consider their own separation. Adding to this complication were the secret actions of General Wilkerson (U.S.) who was not only a secret agent of Spain's but entertained plans of secession first for Kentucky and later in Louisiana. In Europe, the death of the great Carlos III, King of Spain who was not only highly competent but enlisted the aid of excellent counsel, changed the entire situation. The death of his eldest son followed by the sudden death of Carlos III opened up the throne to the next in line, Carlos IV who only had hunting in common with his father> Carlos IV defers the control of Spain to his wife who has intrigues, sexual favors (some historians dispute, but the author says look at the children and you'll agree with him) and political favorites of her own. The capacity of those governing the Spanish control of Louisiana is run for the most part but enter another complication, France and Napoleon. As the author explains, Napoleon's expansion into Europe, conquering Spain opens up his access by treaty to acquiring Louisiana.Read more ›
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