- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (February 10, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062218301
- ISBN-13: 978-0062218308
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 884 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier Paperback – February 10, 2015
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“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)
From the Back Cover
In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent out two advance parties to settle the wild, unclaimed western coast of North America. More than half of his men died violent deaths. The others survived starvation, madness, and greed to shape the destiny of a continent. Unfolding from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship drawing extensively on firsthand accounts of the men who made the journey. Though Astoria, the colony itself, would be short-lived, its founders opened provincial American eyes to the remarkable potential of the Western coast, discovered the route that became the Oregon Trail, and permanently altered the nation's landscape and global standing.
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In many ways, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, however arduous, was an example of a trip where almost everything went right. There was only one fatality, from illness. Conflict with the Indians was minimal. They never drifted terribly far off course. The Astoria Expedition, on the other hand, is an example where just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong, for both the sea-faring party and the cross-country trekkers. Internal conflict, an ambiguous chain of command, poor decision-making or a lack thereof, faulty wilderness survival skills, undiplomatic relations with the Native population, the outbreak of the War of 1812, and more all added up to a mission impossible with a high body count. Although Lewis and Clark’s crew suffered from hunger and privation, their troubles pale in comparison to the perils encountered by the Astorians. Stark does a good job of bringing these hardships to vivid reality, but he’s always a little too ready to shift focus back to Astor in his cozy Manhattan brownstone and praise the fur baron’s vision of global domination. Stark strikes a pretty good balance between happenings on the East and West coasts, but I would have preferred a little more of the microhistory of the travelers and their survival tales, and a little less of the relentless affirmation of Astor’s importance as a pioneer of globalization.
Though several members of the Astorian land and sea parties kept diaries of the journey, there seems to be a lot less information available on this expedition than that of Lewis and Clark. Stark is forced to skip over periods of time or to resort to filling in blank spots with speculation. All historians do this to some extent, but one wishes there were a greater pool of primary source material from which to draw. Documentation was one of the primary missions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as it had specific scientific, geographic, and diplomatic mandates to fulfill. The Astoria Expedition, on the other hand, was largely a commercial venture, and its members were primarily focused not on exploration or diplomacy but simply on the getting there. In terms of an adventure story, the Astoria trip may be the grittier and more treacherous quest, but it lacks some of the epic grandeur and Enlightenment spirit of its predecessor.
Stark’s book is an illuminating reinvestigation and compelling retelling of this important episode in America history. It’s also just a great wilderness adventure story. Anyone interested in Western expansion or the early exploration of the American continent will certainly find it an enjoyable read.
While I enjoyed enlarging my personal cache of American history, what I found most fascinating in this book is the way in which personality determined the outcome of aspects of the story. From Captain Thorn, war hero, whose dictatorial style turns out to be totally unsuited for the ship portion of the journey to the west coast, to Wilson Hunt whose leadership approach was based on consensus style worked well when the journey was going well, but failed when things got tough.
The book is not sparing on brutal details. Exploration journeys were too frequently riddled with brutality and brute force. In other words, this is not a glossy history. But the fact that as humans we can be brutal, or the fact that Americans have been and can be ruthless--that should not surprise the reader or cause the reader to conclude that the book is not worth reading.