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A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America Paperback – August 10, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375707611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375707612
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 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.
Read more ›
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6 of 7 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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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Schmerguls VINE VOICE on December 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I admit I decided to read this book because I thought it only fitting in this bicentennial year of the Louisiana Purchase to do so, and that I was struck by the felicitous title (on a par with other titles which stand out in my memory (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? [read 9 Apr 1952], Right Hand, Glove Uplifted [read Jun 30, 1983], I Came Out of the 18th Century [read 3 Feb 1979], I, Too, Have Lived in Arcadia [read 26 Feb 1987], Keep the Aspidistra Flying [read 2 Apr 2002], and What Me Befell [read 24 Feb 2001]). But it turned out to be a super-interesting book, especially when it got to the actual events leading up to the negotiations with Napolean. One stands in awe of the superlative job which Livingston did in conditioning Napoleon to be willing to sell and the suspense which attends the negotiations is surprising (since one know that it all turns out for the best, because here I am living in Iowa and an American citizen). The research is impeccable, and the footnotes ample, and one is even favored with the text of Pinckney's treaty of 1795 as well as of the Treaty to buy Louisiana. (In the next edition the statement on page 251 that Napoleon died on Elba should be corrected, as well as the statement on page 272 saying Livingston met Talleyrand on "January" 12 instead of April 12, 1803.) The book is full of interesting tidbits, such as telling what happened to Shays of Shays' Rebellion fame, and to Toussaint after the promise to him was broken and he was arrested. This is history which cannot fail to be appreciated when read.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn J. on March 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
I read this book for my own personal research. If you want detail, this has it: Not only what people did, but what they ate and who they were sleeping with. The thing I did not like about the book was each chapter dealt with one thing, for example Pickney's treaty. This made each chapter have to go back and cover time frames in other chapters, so it got a bit confusing with all the overlaps. I would have rather he wrote it straight chronologically. Also, most the chapters had titles that did not give much of a hint as to what was in them, for example: "A Long Train of Intrique", "Banners of Blood", and "Selling a Ship". When I needed to go back and find something, it was very difficult to figure out which chapter it was in. You can't say, "Well, I know it happened before this" because lots of chapters before and after have things from "before this". There is an index, but there are lots of references to Napoleon, Charles IV and Jefferson, so you have to do a lot of extra looking up. Bottom line, very thourough, but difficult to sift through.
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