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In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeleton in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American se In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeleton in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.Six years after Lewis and Clark began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, two of the Eastern establishment's leading figures, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson, turned their sights to founding a colony akin to Jamestown on the West Coast and transforming the nation into a Pacific trading power. Author and correspondent for Outside magazine Peter Stark recreates this pivotal moment in American history for the first time for modern readers, drawing on original source material to tell the amazing true story of the Astor Expedition.Unfolding over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea. Of the more than one hundred-forty members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast—one crossing the Rockies, the other rounding Cape Horn—nearly half perished by violence. Others went mad. Within one year, the expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River. Though the colony would be short-lived, it opened provincial American eyes to the potential of the Western coast and its founders helped blaze the Oregon Trail.


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In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeleton in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American se In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeleton in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.Six years after Lewis and Clark began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, two of the Eastern establishment's leading figures, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson, turned their sights to founding a colony akin to Jamestown on the West Coast and transforming the nation into a Pacific trading power. Author and correspondent for Outside magazine Peter Stark recreates this pivotal moment in American history for the first time for modern readers, drawing on original source material to tell the amazing true story of the Astor Expedition.Unfolding over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea. Of the more than one hundred-forty members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast—one crossing the Rockies, the other rounding Cape Horn—nearly half perished by violence. Others went mad. Within one year, the expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River. Though the colony would be short-lived, it opened provincial American eyes to the potential of the Western coast and its founders helped blaze the Oregon Trail.

30 review for Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Astoria is a tale of two journeys. It is an adventure of the highest order, and with Peter Stark as your guide, it is one of the best non-fiction books you will read for a long time. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase had brought the young United States all the land draining into the Mississippi (at least according to our side of the story). The President wanted to know all he could about what he had bought, particularly as there were still some disagreements going on over the breadth of the purcha Astoria is a tale of two journeys. It is an adventure of the highest order, and with Peter Stark as your guide, it is one of the best non-fiction books you will read for a long time. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase had brought the young United States all the land draining into the Mississippi (at least according to our side of the story). The President wanted to know all he could about what he had bought, particularly as there were still some disagreements going on over the breadth of the purchase. Thus the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, in 1804, and the later Red River Expedition and Pike Expedition provided Jefferson the information about this new land he needed to negotiate with France, and others. But what lay beyond? Opportunity, resources, and vast swaths of land. Peter Stark - image taken from Random House In the early 1800s, John Jacob Astor was one of the richest men of his time. He had made a fortune trading North American furs in Europe, and had begun trading with China as well. What he had in mind was to take advantage of the fur resources of the Northwest and establish a triangle trade. Northwest furs to the Orient, porcelain from China to London and New York and other goods from there back to the Northwest. His aim was to monopolize trading on the Pacific Rim, at a time when Lewis and Clark had been across the country only a few years prior. He involved Jefferson, who also had a more global vision than other men of the day. The Northwest was unclaimed by westerners, (no thought was given, per usual, to the native people who were actually living there) and was considered available for the taking. For Astor it was to be a base for establishing a trade monopoly. Jefferson saw an opportunity to spread democracy to the west coast, and encouraged Astor. To accomplish his aim, it would be necessary for Astor to establish a base of operations. He decided on the area near the mouth of the Columbia River. He put together two groups of men to reach the spot, one to travel by sea the other to cross the continent by land. It is their adventures that form the bulk of the story, and what a story it is. Were this a novel, the dueling road trips would both be tales of self-discovery. This is a case where reality exceeds fiction. The character of many of the travelers is revealed in how they handle the extreme stresses to which they are subjected. Following the development, or revelation of their characters, for good or ill, is one of the great pleasures to be had in reading Astoria. The ship Astor sent was the Tonquin, a 290 ton bark. He selected as its captain the young (31) US Navy lieutenant Jonathan Thorn. Thorn had been a military hero, serving with distinction in the Barbary Wars, and Astor wanted someone who could fend off potential attacks. Our friends across the pond, engaged in a tiff with Napoleon, had taken to stopping vessels in international waters and shanghaiing sailors or passengers who were British subjects to fight the French. Rule Britannia was not being sung by the crews of American-flag ships. This aqueous stop-and-frisk imposition would be one of the causes of the War of 1812. An engraving of the Tonquin at the entrance to the Columbia, from the Oregon historical Society While the captain was the right sort for dealing with a military crew and worked well within the rigid specifications of a military regimen, he was not so adept at controlling a crew that was not exactly military, and most of whom were not even American citizens. Also aboard were shareholders in Astor’s company, a dozen clerks, four tradesmen and a baker’s dozen rough and tumble voyageurs from what is now Canada. He also had a lot to learn about dealing with locals and trade negotiating. The ship was challenged to endure near continual onslaught, whether from the elements, a pursuing ship, or the captain’s personality. He got along so well with the crew that they took to speaking with each other in their native tongues, which Thorn did not speak. And more than once he intentionally set sail while tardy returnees were still on land. His rigidity made for a dark passage. And his sometimes cavalier attitude towards the survival of his own men is breathtaking. He might be charged with depraved indifference today. Along with a certain Captain Queeg, I was reminded of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Consider here Thorn as the king (although Arthur seems quite a bit less rigid) and the castle residents as his crew. The Overland Party was led by Wilson Price Hunt, a young (27) businessman who had worked with fur-traders in St Louis. A polar opposite to Thorn, Hunt was someone who sought, above all else, to construct consensus. The Overland group did not exactly have a roadmap to their destination. The route they took followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark for a time, but they had to carve a new trail at a certain point, into completely unknown and not terribly welcoming territory. Despite the term Overland, much of the Overland Party’s travel was done by water, on rivers. This is the sort of conveyance the Voyageurs were accustomed to paddling - the image is from the Canadian Encyclopedia Far too much of their river time was spent in water of this sort. From the Susquehanna Chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association In a blog entry on Stark’s site, he writes The big Montreal freight canoes could be as long as 40 feet, yet made of lightweight birchbark, and capable of carrying three or four tons of supplies or furs, propelled by ten or twelve voyageurs.It is amazing how many times the Overland Party was assisted by Native Americans. But there were also plenty of locals who were not exactly happy to see them. How the Overland group interact with the natives they encounter is a significant element of the story. How they survived, (or didn’t) is the stuff of adventure yarns. How Hunt herded his pack of cats (and sometimes didn’t) is very impressive. This was definitely not a crew to belong to if you walked on four limbs. Resources became extremely scarce, and desperate measures had to be taken. There is even a hint that starving sojourners might have partaken of the special meat. Some characters stand out here. My favorite is Marie Dorian, a native woman who had married a Metis named Pierre. He dragged her along on the Overland trek, along with her two small (2 and 4 year old) children even thought she was pregnant at the time. Hers is a particularly poignant profile in courage and endurance. There are a few legendary names that folks in this tale encounter, including Sacagawea and Daniel Boone. The story is the thing here, and focus remains on the travails of the travelers. But there are also excellent, informative asides, relevant to the tale, about various and sundry things. One tells why sea otter pelts are so highly valued. Another looks into the societal composition of some native groups, looking at their sources of wealth and social organization. Consideration is given to how the locals react to newcomers, and why, citing past experiences. There is also ongoing consideration for the impact on the enterprise of potential and then kinetic British-US hostilities. We know today that the nation did indeed expand to the West Coast, but the details are plenty soft in your recollections, I will wager. It might not even be that you (or I) forgot, but that we never really knew. Astoria offers an excellent way to mend that hole. It will excite you in the process. This is real-life adventuring, life and death on the line, people you will admire and scoundrels who will make you want to hiss. What a fun read, and what an informative book. It may or may not be a far, far better read than you have ever had before, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to climb, trek, paddle or sail to your nearest book-trading post. This journey to Astoria is very definitely a trip worth taking. PS – the volume I worked from was an ARE, so did not have all the materials expected to be in the final hardcover edition. Spaces were left for illustrations but I did not get to see those. One thing I did see is that there is a very helpful Cast of Characters section at the front of the book, and another at the back called The Fate of the Astorians, which I thought was pretty cool. Astoria was published on March 4, 2014 Trade paperback edition - February 10, 2015 This review was posted on December 8, 2013 This review is cross-posted on Coot’s Reviews =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal and FB pages Here is a link to the Wiki entry for the Tonquin – but if you have not yet read the book, be warned that there is very spoilerish info there. Although I expect the physique of this re-enactor might not match the bulkier torsos of actual voyageurs, this might give you an idea of what was considered proper attire for the proud paddlers So there it is. I was wondering what had happened to that shirt. For more on voyageurs check out this piece from McGill University Astor could not have suspected that Astoria would become a familiar site in many films. Here is a list of a bunch. It includes The Goonies, Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop, The Black Stallion and plenty more. John Day was a member of the Overland Party. He does run into a bit of trouble at the mouth of what was then the Mah-hah River, along the Columbia. It was later renamed for him. A geologically notable site through which that river wanders was also named for him. Day himself was never near there. I have had the pleasure and there are a few shots in my Northwest set on Flickr that offer a glimpse of the striking landscape. The National Park Service site for John Day NP is definitely worth a look Among the places the Overland Party encountered, one that held great hope for them was seeing one particular Mountain chain. The three mountains were hailed by the travelers, Wilson Price Hunt, weighted by his Yankee reserve and need for geographic grounding in this unmapped wilderness, called them the Pilot Knobs. The buoyant French-Canadian voyageurs called the as they saw them, the Trois Tetons,--“the three breasts”. It’s the voyageurs’ name, which has stuck for these mountains that tower above today’s Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Grand indeed Also, that image I use as my GR avatar to spare you the crypt-worthy image of my ancient puss is from the Tetons as well. Today’s city of Astoria, Oregon has a nice site Sadly, while I have been to Astoria, and even visited its Astor Column, it was while my wife and I were in a bit of a rush, heading back to our temporary camp in Portland from a trip to the coast. Did not get there until far too late in the day to get any decent photographs. Then, assisted by considerable fog, we inadvertently took a scenic route that featured a seemingly endless series of blind turns, and was inhabited by large numbers of bulky four-legged creatures standing in the middle of the road and appearing only moments before impact…well, in my white-knuckled imagination, anyway. Having read the book, I would dearly love to return to Astoria, in daylight, and have much more of a clue than I had then what it was all about.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dem

    A story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival and a true adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. I have an interest in this time in American history and in the men who forged their names in history as the men who built America and John Jacob Astor is without doubt one of the most interesting men of this time. The book Astoria is an unfolding adventure over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, a tale of the harrowing times in American histo A story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival and a true adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. I have an interest in this time in American history and in the men who forged their names in history as the men who built America and John Jacob Astor is without doubt one of the most interesting men of this time. The book Astoria is an unfolding adventure over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, a tale of the harrowing times in American history and shows the incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea that these men (and women) endured in their quest to discover and establish empires. Over one hundred and forty members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast, one crossing the Rockies the other rounding Cape Horn, nearly half died by violence and many lost their Sanity, The expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River. Though the colony would be short-lived, it did however set the footprint for what would become know as the Oregan Trail. I listened to this one on audio and while the narrator was good I did feel I missed out on reading a hard copy of the book as to follow the route of the expedition I had to google maps which I believer are included with the hard copy and are really needed in order to follow and understand the book. The Hardcopy also has a list of characters and I felt this was also important as there quite a few people to keep track of. Having said that the book is an amazing and an interesting adventure story with unforgettable characters and a wonderful sense of time and place in the vast unexplored wilderness. I was totally horrified by the hardship the expedition endured to the clashes with the Indians. The book is very well written and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea I recommend it to those who enjoy adventure stories and for those who like reading about American history, I would however recommend purchasing a hard copy of this as opposed to audio version to get the full experience. .

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Fate can be a fickle bitch when it comes to well-laid plans and manifest destiny and all that. A word of caution: it’s been awhile since I’ve read this book. I really liked it, but I’m kind of sketchy on the facts. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “You could always look it up.” Over two hundred years ago, one of the items that drove the world economy was furs – beaver pelts, sea otter furs and the like. It kept people warm and Chinese officials had some sort of fetish for them and were willing Fate can be a fickle bitch when it comes to well-laid plans and manifest destiny and all that. A word of caution: it’s been awhile since I’ve read this book. I really liked it, but I’m kind of sketchy on the facts. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “You could always look it up.” Over two hundred years ago, one of the items that drove the world economy was furs – beaver pelts, sea otter furs and the like. It kept people warm and Chinese officials had some sort of fetish for them and were willing to pay big bucks. The evil empire of Canada had a thriving fur business and the scheming Jacob Astor wanted to branch out on his own and beat the shiftless Canadians at their own game. He was rich, but needed some political clout, so instead of texting Thomas Jefferson, he hopped in his carriage and made the quick three week trip to Washington D.C., stopping along the way for carriage-stop sushi. Thomas Jefferson had just swindled the French out of the Louisiana Purchase and was game for westward expansion. Astor wanted to open up a pelt shop in the Pacific Northwest, so it was “Go west, rich dude, I have your back until I get booted out of office or I make myself king.” Astor sent two parties one by land and one by sea. The land based pelt shop boys ran into some early problems – they hung around St. Louis into autumn and in order to avoid a bunch of thuggish Native Americans they took the scenic route (read: they got lost). “Hey, its winter and we didn’t pack enough freeze-dried spaghetti so were going to have to drink our own urine for sustenance.” The sea party had one big problem: the hand-picked captain was a d*ck. He hated some of the passengers so much that he simply left some of them on one of the deserted Falkland Islands. “Have a swell hunting party and later, dudes. Oh, and I hate you. Feh!” With a pistol pointed at his head he had a change of heart and went back for them. He also had a disagreement with a few of his crew and sent the ringleader to a certain death by trying to navigate some deadly shoals in a leaky rowboat. The ship got there first, but (view spoiler)[ on an expedition it got attacked by Indians due to Captain Crunch’s hard-assed dealings and the only crew member left – suffering from mortal wounds – blew up the ship and a couple hundred Indians too. (hide spoiler)] . The land party got there but were really, really tired from walking and “I need a volunteer to walk all the way back to New York with a message for Mr. Astor.” Because the whole Twitter thing hadn’t been set up, Astor had no idea what the heck was going on. He never got the “Business sucks, it’s been raining for the last six weeks, the Indians hate us and the British will soon be launching cannonballs at our heads, can you be here on the nonce” message until a couple of years later. Then, the War of 1812 happened and the British sent a formal polite letter to the pelt shop boys, saying in essence “vacate the premises, turn over your business and we won’t launch cannonballs at your noggins. Cheerio, chaps”. So Astor’s dreams of rolling in pelts and gold naked and his world empire were shattered and it was back to buying up half of Manhattan. The Canadians, of course, still use beaver pelts as an integral part of their commerce system. If you’re a history buff, I’d say give this one a thorough read; it’s engaging, fast-paced and deals with an aspect of history I had never heard of before reading the book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dax

    Accidentally deleted this review. Brilliant. Anyway, great book detailing John Jacob Astor's attempt to establish the first fur trading post on the west coast. Hunt's trek across the continent is a harrowing account of survival, and the Tonquin's journey around the Horn and subsequent misadventures is a hard lesson in manners. The only thing that kept this from a higher rating was Stark leaving too much meat on the bone. So many aspects of this tale seemed glossed over. It could easily have been Accidentally deleted this review. Brilliant. Anyway, great book detailing John Jacob Astor's attempt to establish the first fur trading post on the west coast. Hunt's trek across the continent is a harrowing account of survival, and the Tonquin's journey around the Horn and subsequent misadventures is a hard lesson in manners. The only thing that kept this from a higher rating was Stark leaving too much meat on the bone. So many aspects of this tale seemed glossed over. It could easily have been a couple of hundred pages longer without any sacrifice in quality. High four stars though.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Hall

    White dudes are stupid but brave.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kerri Anne

    I was going to write a potentially long-winded and comprehensive review* of this book, but I realized upon finishing it last night: This book, in its truest and both literal and figurative senses, is about a bunch of dicks. It's about a bunch of hand-selected men and haphazardly formed groups of them setting out to create a new "empire" in the previously uncharted Coastal Northwest. One endlessly and expertly funded expedition, to be certain, but otherwise foolishly and terrifyingly led. It's ab I was going to write a potentially long-winded and comprehensive review* of this book, but I realized upon finishing it last night: This book, in its truest and both literal and figurative senses, is about a bunch of dicks. It's about a bunch of hand-selected men and haphazardly formed groups of them setting out to create a new "empire" in the previously uncharted Coastal Northwest. One endlessly and expertly funded expedition, to be certain, but otherwise foolishly and terrifyingly led. It's about Inland and Pacific Northwest history, and the way Astoria (and so many similar fur-trading-settlements-turned-towns) were founded, which is to say: On greed and guns. (Because the group possessing the most sophisticated and savage weaponry holds the proverbial cards at this "Manifest Destiny" table.) This now and always picturesque town lying next to the mighty Columbia River** was built upon a foundation of murder, savagery, survival, and endless hunger: For more power and wealth, more and more land and people to work it, more food, more animal pelts, more goods with which to trade, more...everything. The entire two-part expedition (one by land, one by sea) was also peppered with cannibalism, animal cruelty, rape, incest, pride, ridiculously poor decisions on how to treat human beings and especially Native Americans, and thus: hardship. So much hardship. And all for the overarching plan of trapping and taking so much more than what was needed, to supply China and Russia's affinity for animal fur, and various other material goods. Which of course so perfectly mirrors the way all of of America was founded. I will admit I'm happy to know some of this history, because my very sugar-coated American History classes definitely didn't cover a lot of these stories, and John Jacob Astor's expeditions to build his ill-conceived empire are so closely connected to so much of this region's (and this entire country's) history, which means passages of this book were definitely equal parts staggering and interesting.*** But to know the Pacific Coast was founded so ruthlessly, so foolishly, and so lacking necessary forethought is a disturbing and upsetting reality to face. (What had I expected? I've no idea; I supposed I'd just never truly considered.) Also, the flow of this book is mostly terrible. It takes forever to get started, rambles and makes strange, unnecessary connections and conjectures in places, and then abruptly ends with the War of 1812 and Astor's death in New York, an entire country away from the "empire" he so valiantly tried to create at all costs. *Ha ha ha. Well, then. (Is this me *not* being long-winded? Probably.) I apparently had more to say about this book than originally anticipated. But, still: bunch of dicks. **Named for a WASP-y, East Coast ship whose captain and expedition leader ordered the slaughter and burning of an entire Indian village upon his first trip to the region. ***Astor's "overland expedition" included the French trappers who named the Tetons (French for "large teats", because: bunch of dicks, remember?). They also passed Daniel Boone standing on the Missouri River, Boone having retreated from the meager settlement he'd help found, disturbed by his belief that true wilderness was (already, back in the late 1700s/early 1800s) vastly and quickly disappearing. Oh, if Boone only knew the true wilderness destruction lying in wait. And John Day? Lost his damn mind during the admittedly insane and ill-managed overland expedition. Dude tried to shoot himself with two pistols at once, and somehow missed with both. So I suppose it's fitting he has an equally sad and theatrical dam named after him? (Looking into the history of names of places, monuments, and rivers, etc. is almost universally discouraging. Maybe what this country has always needed was less dicks, and more women like Marie Dorion.) [Allllmost three stars for being historically accurate, and in that way interesting, and for encouraging me to picture a West almost wholly devoid of people and laden instead with pristine wilderness.]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andy Miller

    In many ways this is a follow up to Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage"-the story of Lewis and Clark's expedition."Astoria" recounts the story of just two years later when John Jacob Astor sent two parties, one by sea, one overland along the same route taken by Lewis and Clark, to meet and establish a trading post in present day Astoria Oregon. The author, Peter Stark, details how neither trip went as planned. The Overland party learned that due to Lewis's killing of a Blackfeet, and leaving a In many ways this is a follow up to Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage"-the story of Lewis and Clark's expedition."Astoria" recounts the story of just two years later when John Jacob Astor sent two parties, one by sea, one overland along the same route taken by Lewis and Clark, to meet and establish a trading post in present day Astoria Oregon. The author, Peter Stark, details how neither trip went as planned. The Overland party learned that due to Lewis's killing of a Blackfeet, and leaving a Jefferson peace medal around his neck, caused the Blackfeet nation to kill any white man coming through their territory. The overland party then opted for a route to the south of the one taken by Lewis and Clark leading to the discovery of the Grand Tetons and later of the Hell's Canyon which forced the explorers from the Snake River and caused them to split up and then travel through the Blue Mountains and eventually finding the Columbia River. The voyage by sea focuses on the tension between the rigid, militaristic ship captain and the Scottish partners, a tension and rigidity that would lead to disaster after they arrived at Astoria One compelling theme of both adventures was that the initial encounters between Native American tribes and Caucasian explores was friendly. Just as the Nez Perz saved Lewis and Clark's party, the Shoshone and Cayuse saved the Overland party from starvation. However, just as Lewis was reckless with his killing of the Blackfeet, many explorers became reckless in their encounters, killing and kidnapping Native Americans when there was no need to, causing later retaliation which was often suffered from "innocent" whites This is a great book and I recommend it to everyone but especially those with interest in the history and geography of the Pacific Northwest

  8. 4 out of 5

    Misfit

    Astoria is a non-fiction book about the Astor Expedition of 1810-1812, and the Wiki link can probably summarize it better than I. There were two groups sent to what is now Astoria, Oregon, one via land and one via sea and both long, dangerous journeys. "It would be nine thousand miles and three and a half months to Cape Horn, and that would mark only the halfway point to the Northwest Coast." "Explored by Lewis and Clark only six years earlier, the Missouri was the only known route across the vas Astoria is a non-fiction book about the Astor Expedition of 1810-1812, and the Wiki link can probably summarize it better than I. There were two groups sent to what is now Astoria, Oregon, one via land and one via sea and both long, dangerous journeys. "It would be nine thousand miles and three and a half months to Cape Horn, and that would mark only the halfway point to the Northwest Coast." "Explored by Lewis and Clark only six years earlier, the Missouri was the only known route across the vast terra incognita of this part of the North American continent." And once they get there (or do they all get there?), there's still stuff like hostile natives, the notorious sandbar at the mouth of the Columbia River to get a ship through, enormous trees to cut down before you can build and all that rain. And what do you do about supplies when it takes months to wait for the next supply ship? And what about those struggling to make it via the Overland route? "They didn’t realize that the mouth of the Columbia still lay hundreds and hundreds of miles away and nearly five thousand feet below them. Even a sextant, however, couldn’t have told them of the horrors that lay between here and there." Even though this book wasn't quite what I expected (stupid me, I thought it was about the later settlements at Astoria), I did enjoy this a lot and learned lots of new-to-me historical factoids (always a plus). The author did go off on the occasional *lecture* or two where I ended up skimming a bit (seriously, I didn't need a several page lecture on the dangers of scurvy and how to prevent it), but overall a very interesting read. Loved the author's notes on how he came to writing about this subject, plus the *what ifs* he suggested and how what is now the western US and Canada might have evolved into something completely different than what it is now. (view spoiler)[If the expedition had been wholly successful, could Astor have established his own little empire out here? What if the English had given up on what is now western British Columbia? Would the US stretch from California all the way to Alaska? (hide spoiler)] We'll never know. Further reading, Washington Irving wrote about this expedition, and is available as a free download at Amazon and Project G. Astoria, or, anecdotes of an enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains. Kindle copy obtained via library loan.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Perri

    Alternative title: Crazy White Guys and Their Arrogant Greed. This book is split in two narratives: the overland journey across the barely explored western US and the sailing one around the tip of S. America to meet in the Pacific Northwest and so prepare a lucrative fur trade route to China. Both go through horrendous hardship mostly of their own design. (view spoiler)[ For instance, the overland crew refuses to spend a couple of extra months wintering with the Shoshone tribe because by golly w Alternative title: Crazy White Guys and Their Arrogant Greed. This book is split in two narratives: the overland journey across the barely explored western US and the sailing one around the tip of S. America to meet in the Pacific Northwest and so prepare a lucrative fur trade route to China. Both go through horrendous hardship mostly of their own design. (view spoiler)[ For instance, the overland crew refuses to spend a couple of extra months wintering with the Shoshone tribe because by golly we need to keep on schedule. A sailing crew goes on what they know is a suicidal row as ordered by their insane Captain. I almost enjoyed the ensuing consequential folly and what was for me a new experience of rooting against the brave explorers (hide spoiler)] Not to say it wan't a valuable read. I didn't know about this chapter in my county's history AND it was an exciting and well written. Not a bad combination. Really a five star book, but I have to round down because of the dents in my wall from the throwing the book across the room. "..there lies a point when bravery shades into arrogance, and arrogance shades into idiocy."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jane Peterson

    Northern empire Well documented tale of Asters fur empire. Fascinating adventures and conflicts of these trappers and mountain men surviving in wilderness

  11. 5 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Living less than 100 miles away from Astoria, I have been there, through there, and all about its environs for many years. It is little, unassuming, vast in its variety of territory, and overabundant in its natural wealth. People, not many. We've trotted the kids off to every historical feature we knew of on the coast (one grown son bears a scar slash on his knee from when the wreck of the Peter Iredale "bit" his 4-year old self during one low tide visit at Fort Stevens State Park). Astoria was Living less than 100 miles away from Astoria, I have been there, through there, and all about its environs for many years. It is little, unassuming, vast in its variety of territory, and overabundant in its natural wealth. People, not many. We've trotted the kids off to every historical feature we knew of on the coast (one grown son bears a scar slash on his knee from when the wreck of the Peter Iredale "bit" his 4-year old self during one low tide visit at Fort Stevens State Park). Astoria was one of those places. We stayed in a hotel over a weekend and visited all we could take in. From the Column, to Lewis & Clark Historical Park, the Goonies house, museums and the Flavel House, Fort Astoria (George) and the riverfront - all so familiar to me. What never really answered my question was why "Astor"ia? He never even went there! This book, more than all those many field trips, did more to satisfy my question (rather than answer it) after all these years. John Jacob Astor was rich as Midas and after an agreement with Thomas Jefferson, he financed an expedition in 1811 (through 1812) that had more members and wild events than the Lewis & Clark expedition sent just years prior (May 1804 - Sept 1806) seemed to. Fort "Astoria" (taking over the already existing Fort George) changed the name of that area, through the present. He didn't break even on this venture, and it didn't move him to leave his beloved New York. However, the men and women who hired out to do the work ended out giving up their lives or futures to the westering goals of the expedition. My favorite? Learning about Marie Aioe Dorion, mixed native who seems to have saved the day often on that expedition. I'm excited to find there are more places I can visit with her in mind, according to Wikipedia: Among the places memorializing Dorion are two parks: Madame Dorion Memorial Park at the mouth of the Walla Walla River near Wallula, Washington,[13] and Marie Dorion Park, a Milton-Freewater, Oregon city park near the foothills of the Blue Mountains.[14] The Dorion Complex residence hall at Eastern Oregon University is in La Grande.[10] There is a plaque noting the place near North Powder where she likely gave birth.[10] Hers is also one of the 158 names of people important to Oregon's history that are painted in the House and Senate chambers of the Oregon State Capitol.[15] Her name is in the Senate chamber. St. Louis, Oregon, has a street named after her, Dorion Lane.[10] Oregon author Jane Kirkpatrick wrote the Tender Ties trilogy of historical novels based on Dorion's life. The individual titles in the series are A Name of Her Own, Every Fixed Star, and Hold Tight the Thread.[16] On May 10, 2014, the Daughters of the American Revolution held a service at Saint Louis Catholic Church dedicating a historical marker in Dorion's honor.[9] A great read. This was a listen for me. I agree with some who have said more might be gained from a read of the physical book due to illustrations, charts, photographs and maps that are not provided with audio books (or are too cumbersome to try and find from the audio copy provider).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Astoria was to be the keystone of John Jacob Astor's dream of a global fur-trading monopoly. The plan was ambitious and at first glance, simple. Dispatch an expedition of tough trappers (called voyageurs due to their expertise at navigating the interior waterways) and establish an outpost at the mouth of the Columbia River by following the route of Lewis and Clark. At the same time, a ship laden with trade goods would be dispatched from New York, round the Horn, ride the trade winds to Hawaii, r Astoria was to be the keystone of John Jacob Astor's dream of a global fur-trading monopoly. The plan was ambitious and at first glance, simple. Dispatch an expedition of tough trappers (called voyageurs due to their expertise at navigating the interior waterways) and establish an outpost at the mouth of the Columbia River by following the route of Lewis and Clark. At the same time, a ship laden with trade goods would be dispatched from New York, round the Horn, ride the trade winds to Hawaii, re-provision, and sail to the mouth of the Columbia to Astoria. The goal was to out-maneuver the Canadian owned North West Company and control the lucrative shipments of fur to China. The profits would be astronomical. As all of this is part of the historical record, it is hardly a spoiler to reveal that unforeseen difficulties were encountered. Stark's narration intercuts between the two expeditions. Stark's strength is his ability to dramatize geographic elements of the story. The Overland Expedition started in 1810. Its co-leaders, William Price Hunt and Donald Mackenzie traveled by canoe from Montreal to Mackinac to St. Louis. Why these particular destinations? Mackinac was at the convergence of three of the Great Lakes. It was the center of the fur trade for the central U.S. watersheds, the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers. Here, recruitment for the expedition would occur. St. Louis was the gateway to the west — the point of departure for Lewis and Clark. They would canoe up the Missouri River to the northwest, portage where necessary, and float down the Columbia River. Recruitment problems, a late start, and finally, winter ice clogging the Missouri were only the first obstacles encountered. By spring stories of Blackfoot hostility led the expedition to veer from the Missouri in present day South Dakota in favor of an unexplored overland route south of Blackfoot territory. Why was this a problem? Again, Stark provides a helpful geographic context. The overland journey was by horseback, and horses need forage and water. This was not a small contingent. It included not only people, but considerable quantities of supplies and trade goods. However, when the party crossed the 100th meridian they left behind the fertile midwest and entered the arid west. Starvation could now be added to the growing list of pervasive dangers. Stark's most dramatic explanation, however, concerns the circumstances that funneled the party north up the Snake River (in the book he refers to it as the Mad River). The river's serpentine coarse and its narrowing channels and swift turbulent waters were created long ago by the “Yellowstone hot spot,” which Stark characterizes as a giant moving lava bubble. “This bubble of lava bulges the landscape for many miles around, causing the headwater rivers of the Missouri and Columbia to spill in opposite directions from its highlands.” He continues: “The terrain around it buckled. The river twisted its way into barren foothills, then steep mountains that squeezed the river, forcing Hunt's party to clamber up the slopes above its cliffy banks.” The timing couldn't have been worse. It was the beginning of December. It got worse. The narrow gorge fed into Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. “It is here that the Mad River — the Snake — exits that broad lava plain melted through the Rockies by the Yellowstone hot spot. Veering northward, the river tumbles into an ancient trench creased into the earth's crust by the collision of the Pacific and North American plates. It was almost topographic inevitability that set Hunt on this doomed route.” Miraculously, the Party survived when they stumbled on an encampment of Shoshone. After recovering from this latest ordeal, Hunt pressured the Shoshone to provide guidance to the headwaters of the Columbia. Unsurprisingly the Shoshone were reluctant to embrace the sizable risk of freezing to death. Stark notes laconically, “The wilderness did not keep to a businesslike schedule of hours or days, minutes or months, or deadlines for human convenience. The native peoples recognized this, tending to stay put when the weather was bad, to move when it was good, and they wondered why someone would choose otherwise.” One of the great gaps in the story is the native American viewpoint. Stark mentions in a note that in 2005 an archaeologist asked a Clayoquot tribal historian why his rich trove of information had not been previously recorded. The tribal historian replied: “No one ever bothered to ask us.” This omission is especially conspicuous in the story of Marie Dorion, a member of the Iowa tribe, and the wife of the party's interpreter. She tried to escape from her husband along with her 2-year old and 5-year old sons when she learned of the expedition. She was recaptured, and became pregnant during the course of the trek. Stark merely notes: “She had shown a reluctance about this epic journey since its very beginning.” The sea venture of Astor's ship focuses on personalities, and here, Stark is at his weakest. He makes frequent inferences about personalities and motives. His conclusions are plausible, but nevertheless, speculative. There are also several biographical chapters relating to John Jacob Astor. As Stark rightly concludes, despite his grandiose plan, Astor is hardly a heroic actor in the drama. “While Astor was vastly exposed, his exposure was purely financial.” With this in mind, I disagreed with much of Stark's historical interpretation. The real significance of Astoria was the overland saga that foreshadowed the outlines of the Oregon Trail. Still, he is correct in pointing out that Astoria is a forgotten part of American history. It is a story worth remembering for many reasons. NOTES I read the Kindle version of the book, and unfortunately, the maps are illegible. Below are some maps that help illustrate Stark's geographical explanations. Precipitation map – http://education.randmcnally.com/clas...). Little Cedar Island where the party diverged from the Lewis and Clark route – http://itouchmap.com/?d=1263530&s...). Yellowstone Hot Spot http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience... Map of Snake River http://www.loc.gov/resource/g4242s.ct... Snake River and Columbia River Watersheds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_Ri...

  13. 4 out of 5

    11811 (Eleven)

    I need to stop pretending I'll finish this. DNF @ wherever I was when that happened. Solid information with a sleep inducing presentation. I couldn't do it. I need to stop pretending I'll finish this. DNF @ wherever I was when that happened. Solid information with a sleep inducing presentation. I couldn't do it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    The perfect history for someone like me living so close to Astoria, Oregon but with only hazy knowledge of that historic little town that sometimes is more remembered today for the opening scenes of the cult movie The Goonies. But contrary to what I thought, the immensely wealthy John Jacob Astor never set foot in Astoria. From his comfortable mansion in New York City, he planned a vast network of commercial trade with China--all based on the wealth of furs traded with the Native Americans scatt The perfect history for someone like me living so close to Astoria, Oregon but with only hazy knowledge of that historic little town that sometimes is more remembered today for the opening scenes of the cult movie The Goonies. But contrary to what I thought, the immensely wealthy John Jacob Astor never set foot in Astoria. From his comfortable mansion in New York City, he planned a vast network of commercial trade with China--all based on the wealth of furs traded with the Native Americans scattered throughout the great wilderness Lewis and Clark had just recorded. As an astute businessman, Astor chose his partners carefully, but ended up with an s.o.b of a ship captain who went around South American and up the coast, and an overland leader with no experience in rough wilderness. Stark is masterful in bringing out incidents and brief quotes from the memoirs and journals that were kept by some of the participants. The story is vivid, the characters memorable. Those adventurers had no idea what they were up against, so read this and weep. But wait, there's more!Illustrations, good maps, Stark's own local connections nicely told in the Acknowledgements, and even a brief summary of how some of the characters' lives unfolded after the end of the great Astoria Empire dream.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Balika

    Pretty good book, but it was one of those that you start with gusto, thinking its going to be a page turner, but it ends up fizzling out and being one of those books you finish just to see what happens... The premise was amazing: John Jacob Astor, billionaire, decides to start a west coast fur colony- the first American one- to cement an around-the-world trading system. Through a series of very unfortunate and unlucky events, it ultimately fails. Some of the failures (suicide bombed boat, scalpi Pretty good book, but it was one of those that you start with gusto, thinking its going to be a page turner, but it ends up fizzling out and being one of those books you finish just to see what happens... The premise was amazing: John Jacob Astor, billionaire, decides to start a west coast fur colony- the first American one- to cement an around-the-world trading system. Through a series of very unfortunate and unlucky events, it ultimately fails. Some of the failures (suicide bombed boat, scalpings, evil skippers, ship disasters) were actually fairly interesting, but in the end: depressing!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vinh Nguyen

    As a historical book, it accomplished its mission to educate and excite me as a reader about history. I read it on the Nook and wished I had a real copy to see the maps better. It was well written, engaging, and concise. I learned many new things about the history of the exploration of the NW. As someone who grew up in Canada, Astor was new to me. I was surprised at the significant role of Canadians in the whole story. In fact, Canada came really close to owning the West Coast from Mexico to Ala As a historical book, it accomplished its mission to educate and excite me as a reader about history. I read it on the Nook and wished I had a real copy to see the maps better. It was well written, engaging, and concise. I learned many new things about the history of the exploration of the NW. As someone who grew up in Canada, Astor was new to me. I was surprised at the significant role of Canadians in the whole story. In fact, Canada came really close to owning the West Coast from Mexico to Alaska. It (and Britain) just wasn't ambitious and cut-throat enough. I suppose I'm to admire the courage, determination, ambition, and entrepreneur spirit of these Astorians as early explorers and expanders. Of course, I can't help but root for the Native Americans - "no, don't fall for the trinkets, don't save them, don't trust them, don't extend your hospitality blindly" - even when I already know the outcome. Not being native to this continent, I was never a fan of manifest destiny and the taking of land from those deemed lesser than some. Books like these always enrage me against the injustice and make me shameful for the behavior of man against man and nature.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Gibson

    ‘ASTORIA’ has it all: drama, sea adventure, wilderness exploration, incredible human strength and endurance, biological warfare, bombs (a real cinematic one), terror, loneliness, and every once in a while a song or two. I can't believe I’ve never heard of this bit of history before. The beginning is a little dry and slow - keep going. It becomes a page turner. The experiences and suffering of the partners in Astor’s grand plan to create an empire in the Pacific Northwest are compelling. The tale ‘ASTORIA’ has it all: drama, sea adventure, wilderness exploration, incredible human strength and endurance, biological warfare, bombs (a real cinematic one), terror, loneliness, and every once in a while a song or two. I can't believe I’ve never heard of this bit of history before. The beginning is a little dry and slow - keep going. It becomes a page turner. The experiences and suffering of the partners in Astor’s grand plan to create an empire in the Pacific Northwest are compelling. The tales of survival and sense of mission jump off the page. Largely unknown in comparison to Lewis and Clark’s expedition, it’s a piece of history that carries its own significance in the development of the western frontier. If you liked ‘The Lost City of Z,’ you will like this. There are some passages describing the isolation of the small settlement established at the Columbia River estuary that will send chills down your spine. And an Indian attack, so graphic it will put modern thriller writers to shame. Not kidding. This is history as it should be written.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carol Bakker

    Astoria hit the spot: Right time √ Receptive mood √ Completely engaging √ Absolutely astonishing √ Local interest √ Intersections with recent books I've read √ John Jacob Astor had a global vision of trading furs/porcelain/silk/tea; it required a settlement on the Pacific coast. Thus in 1810 he sent the ship Tonquin 21,852 miles from the New York harbor around Cape Horn to the mouth of the Columbia River. Concurrently, he sent an Overland Party in canoes from Montreal, via St. Louis, across the contin Astoria hit the spot: Right time √ Receptive mood √ Completely engaging √ Absolutely astonishing √ Local interest √ Intersections with recent books I've read √ John Jacob Astor had a global vision of trading furs/porcelain/silk/tea; it required a settlement on the Pacific coast. Thus in 1810 he sent the ship Tonquin 21,852 miles from the New York harbor around Cape Horn to the mouth of the Columbia River. Concurrently, he sent an Overland Party in canoes from Montreal, via St. Louis, across the continent to point on the map he designated Astoria. That he believed the two groups would succeed and rejoin at an unsettled place 3,000 miles from where he lived is staggering. That survivors from each group assembled in Astoria beggars all belief. One member of the Overland Party was John Day. That caught my attention, because John Day is a town that time forgot about 75 miles from me. The person who captured my heart was Marie Dorion, the wife of Pierre Dorion, and likely a friend of the more famous Sacagawea. A part of the expedition, she brought her two children, and gave birth to a baby at North Powder, 25 miles away. She was a stalwart human being who performed heroic feats. Her name kept niggling...Dorion. Dorion Hall! — a dorm at our nearby university. Sure enough, it was named after my Marie! (The name was later changed to Hunt Hall after Wilson Price Hunt, the leader of the overland expedition.) While the snow was falling outside, I pulled the covers over me and read about men (and woman) clawing out a path to survival during winter in the region where I live. Hells Canyon (deepest in America) can be treacherous in the summer! I just finished reading How the Scots Invented the Modern World; it told me Scots were a force in the fur business, and major players in the Astoria enterprise. This book sent me on an adventure learning about "crossing the bar" of the Columbia River. Here is a ten minute video which illustrates the challenges: Columbia River Bar Pilots

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    Non-fiction narrative of the journeys involved in the original settlement of Astoria, “the first American colony on the West Coast of North America, much in the way that Jamestown and Plymouth were the first British colonies on its East Coast.” Peter Stark relates John Jacob Astor’s vision of becoming a magnate of global commerce and how he attempted to make it a reality. To do so, “in 1810, he would send two advance parties—one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by la Non-fiction narrative of the journeys involved in the original settlement of Astoria, “the first American colony on the West Coast of North America, much in the way that Jamestown and Plymouth were the first British colonies on its East Coast.” Peter Stark relates John Jacob Astor’s vision of becoming a magnate of global commerce and how he attempted to make it a reality. To do so, “in 1810, he would send two advance parties—one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by land.” This book is an adventure story involving American history, exploration, leadership, globalization, colonization, entrepreneurship, and biography, all woven together into an engaging, and sometimes shocking, story of the establishment of the first non-native settlement in the Pacific Northwest. It is a story of character and leadership styles, and the very tangible outcomes of decisions made at critical junctures. It made me question, before the decision was made, what I would I have done, and would it have turned out better or worse? Stark provides a striking account of the physical and mental anguish endured by these adventurers. He also presents another example of cultural insensitivity in the treatment of the Native Americans, and how, ironically, the expedition would never have succeeded without their assistance. It is a tale of how extreme stress brings out the best and worst in human nature. I very much enjoyed this action-oriented factual adventure, including vignettes such as: • An explosion of immense proportions • A group reduced to eating their moccasins (and worse) • A pregnant woman with two small children walking most of the way across the remote wilderness My quibbles with the book are few. While Thomas Jefferson is mentioned in the ever-so-long subtitle, his involvement is not covered in much depth. There are a few typos in the Kindle edition and the section about the War of 1812 was, for me, not as cohesive or compelling as the rest of the book. Recommended to those interested in true adventures, exploration, or American history.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Like the author I have lived in the heart of Lewis and Clark Territory for decades without learning anything about the Astorians. I didn't even know the town of Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor. To the extent that I ever thought about it, I assumed, like Vida and Veneta in Oregon, it was named after someone's daughter. Living in western Oregon with many trips to visit friends and relatives in Idaho and Wyoming, I am familiar with much of the terrain the overland group covered and the wea Like the author I have lived in the heart of Lewis and Clark Territory for decades without learning anything about the Astorians. I didn't even know the town of Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor. To the extent that I ever thought about it, I assumed, like Vida and Veneta in Oregon, it was named after someone's daughter. Living in western Oregon with many trips to visit friends and relatives in Idaho and Wyoming, I am familiar with much of the terrain the overland group covered and the weather conditions they endured. I was particularly taken by the experiences of Marie Dorion who made the journey west while pregnant carrying a toddler and responsible for a 4 year old. Many of the men died, as did her newborn, but she survived a winter alone with her preschoolers and ultimately settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In addition to the overland group, a ship sailed around the horn to meet them at the mouth of the Columbia. That voyage is quite a tale too. The book is full of "what ifs" centering around the management styles of the leaders. They faced agonizing decisions without good information. Stark does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the decision making point. I highly recommend this book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Arthur

    A truly amazing account of a (for me) unknown exploration story that equals if not rivals the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Similar times; parts of the exploration are in the same territory and parts not. This is a study of privation; it is a revelation of the vastness of this country in the time when, as White men recount it, it was all unexplored "heart of darkness" territory--of course, not unexplored but actually "owned and inhabited" by large roaming and sedentary and experienced Natives. The A truly amazing account of a (for me) unknown exploration story that equals if not rivals the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Similar times; parts of the exploration are in the same territory and parts not. This is a study of privation; it is a revelation of the vastness of this country in the time when, as White men recount it, it was all unexplored "heart of darkness" territory--of course, not unexplored but actually "owned and inhabited" by large roaming and sedentary and experienced Natives. These Natives, ironically, welcoming the white men, helping them find their way, and providing the means by which the land was eventually taken from them. An amazing account of resilience and the search for wealth and the willingness to risk all in a high stakes game over which you had literally little to no control once ships set sail and men began to walk. One fascinating piece of all of this fascinating story is the exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the context of this strange new world. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the west, the history of the US, the story of this country's indigenous peoples....

  22. 4 out of 5

    Celia

    I love history and by inference, historical fiction. Astoria... is both well-referenced, well-written and READS like fiction. It is the story of the founding of Astoria, Oregon, founded on the Columbia River by John Jacob Astor to bring furs and fur trading to the West Coast and from there, China. It was an auspicious and brave (and perhaps some would think) reckless endeavor. Before its founding in 1811, only one group, headed by Lewis and Clark, had ventured this far into the West. There are her I love history and by inference, historical fiction. Astoria... is both well-referenced, well-written and READS like fiction. It is the story of the founding of Astoria, Oregon, founded on the Columbia River by John Jacob Astor to bring furs and fur trading to the West Coast and from there, China. It was an auspicious and brave (and perhaps some would think) reckless endeavor. Before its founding in 1811, only one group, headed by Lewis and Clark, had ventured this far into the West. There are heroes, villians, tragedy, and success. Ultimately there is failure too. But there is really quite a story here. Washington Irving worked with Astor some 20 years later to publish a best-selling book, Astoria. Much of what is relayed by Stark comes from Irving's book. Jefferson is mentioned sparingly in this work, but that is as it should be. He is not the star. Perhaps Astor is not the star either. It is the adventurous people who sailed around Cape Horn and trekked across the Rockies who are the stars of this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christine Boyer

    The first place I ever saw on the west coast was Astoria, Oregon! Scenic, but also wet and wild! It was a great trip, and so there was some nostalgia/sentimentality attached to this story. It's funny, I was leaning more toward 3 stars, but after reading the epilogue and comments from Stark at the back of the book, I was reminded at how much research and work went into this, and I felt more generous. I can't believe I hadn't heard this story before. I only knew Astor as one of the wealthiest busine The first place I ever saw on the west coast was Astoria, Oregon! Scenic, but also wet and wild! It was a great trip, and so there was some nostalgia/sentimentality attached to this story. It's funny, I was leaning more toward 3 stars, but after reading the epilogue and comments from Stark at the back of the book, I was reminded at how much research and work went into this, and I felt more generous. I can't believe I hadn't heard this story before. I only knew Astor as one of the wealthiest businessmen in Manhattan. That's it! So in those terms alone, I'm so glad I read it and learned so much. Now, as far as an adventure story - yes, but.. this is where my 3 star rating was coming from - not sure that it ranks up there with a very similar adventure story - the Lewis & Clark trip only two years prior. Somehow Ambrose was able to make their story slightly more compelling and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful than what Stark was able to do here. I often found myself getting sleepy and struggling to finish some passages. I would say this book is not for everyone. But if you're interested in the history of America and American business ventures and expanding the west and most importantly - how different personalities can make or break an expedition - then check it out! Side note - Stark is good with balancing the portrayal of all the sides: the native American tribes, the French voyageurs, the fur trapping Scots, the politicians, etc. You may agree or disagree with the outcomes, but Stark is simply the messenger.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rex Fuller

    This is fascinating. It tells the story of John Jacob Astor’s effort in 1810 to corner the global market for furs by establishing a colony on the mouth of the Columbia. His idea was to trade beads with the Indians of the northwest for sea otter furs and trade the furs in China for porcelain to be sold in London and New York, for a total profit of about 2,500 percent. The details are an education. His idea was not completely original. The first American ship to circumnavigate the world, out of Bo This is fascinating. It tells the story of John Jacob Astor’s effort in 1810 to corner the global market for furs by establishing a colony on the mouth of the Columbia. His idea was to trade beads with the Indians of the northwest for sea otter furs and trade the furs in China for porcelain to be sold in London and New York, for a total profit of about 2,500 percent. The details are an education. His idea was not completely original. The first American ship to circumnavigate the world, out of Boston in 1787, returning in 1790, was an effort to establish fur trade with China. But Astor thought bigger than anyone else. Astor hired French-Canadian voyageurs who arrived in New York harbor paddling forty foot birch bark freight canoes, jumping ten feet per stroke through the Hudson to the beat of loud rhythmic song. His sea-borne party aboard the Tonquin, like many ships including those of Britain, Spain, and France, bound for the northwest coast after rounding Cape Horn, used Hawaii as a stopover. The land-based arm of Astor’s venture, traveling up the Missouri just six years after Lewis and Clark, encountered both Daniel Boone and John Colter. A trapper from Kentucky named Edward Robinson, who bore the scar of having been scalped (in the Ohio Valley), was one of several who warned against crossing the territory of the Blackfeet because of the tribe’s implacable ferocity. The overland party discovered places that now carry the sound of the West: Jackson Hole, Hells Canyon, the Snake River. They found the route that became the Oregon Trail–the Platte River, South Pass, Snake River, Blue Mountains, Columbia River. The story became a best seller by Washington Irving, yes, Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle Irving, in 1836. With all of this, why do we know so little of the story today, compared to that of Lewis and Clark or the Mountain Men and Cowboys? This book answers that question.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Taylor

    Although this is a tragic story, it is not dark or tearjerking - more of an account of the difficulty of attempting a new settlement, the timing of a glorious attempt making things go all wrong, and how personalities and people can conflict and cause failure. Astoria is the tale of John Jacob Astor's attempt to create a global trading market for furs from what is now the Northwestern USA to China and England in exchange for goods from those countries back to the USA. It was a huge vision that Tho Although this is a tragic story, it is not dark or tearjerking - more of an account of the difficulty of attempting a new settlement, the timing of a glorious attempt making things go all wrong, and how personalities and people can conflict and cause failure. Astoria is the tale of John Jacob Astor's attempt to create a global trading market for furs from what is now the Northwestern USA to China and England in exchange for goods from those countries back to the USA. It was a huge vision that Thomas Jefferson even backed hoping that it would result in a new country settled on the western part of the continent. Astoria still is a town in Oregon but the nation by that name never took hold due to a wide variety of things going wrong. Stark tries to analyze what could have been the causes of the failure, and lays out what historical data we do have. Sometimes he's quite good at this analysis, sometimes he's limited by his education or knowledge. He doesn't seem to quite understand naval discipline and like many modern writers tends to view the native Americans living in the area as better than the settling Europeans, whereas objectively they both were rascals and yet noble in their own way. Overall, though, this is a solid read with a lot of historical information about a fascinating time period in which Astor became the richest man on the planet, the first real industrialist billionaire just as America was forming. At the height of his wealth, Astor was worth 1% of the entire nation's GNP, and had the equivalent of $110 billion modern dollars in wealth.

  26. 5 out of 5

    June

    No clear-cut success and unembellished hero, but this book delivered more profound insights than any heroic adventures of American frontiersmen, valuable nowadays. Regardless of history's consensus, or opinions from author and academics, Astor and Jefferson maybe visionaries ahead of their time, Hunt and Thorn maybe the best consequential leaders at the time, I hold esteem to: Duncan McDougal ("bad" guy or not), Donald MacKenzie (with intelligence and courage to challenge Astor's strategy/scheme) No clear-cut success and unembellished hero, but this book delivered more profound insights than any heroic adventures of American frontiersmen, valuable nowadays. Regardless of history's consensus, or opinions from author and academics, Astor and Jefferson maybe visionaries ahead of their time, Hunt and Thorn maybe the best consequential leaders at the time, I hold esteem to: Duncan McDougal ("bad" guy or not), Donald MacKenzie (with intelligence and courage to challenge Astor's strategy/scheme), Marie Dorion (the only true hero!). Compelling read on wild landscape and seascape, as well as various Indian tribes. Oregon trail...and still vast wilderness there!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gregory Crouch

    Lewis & Clark returned from their two-year trek to the Pacific Northwest in 1806. Four years later, in 1810, more than a hundred men set out to leverage their discoveries and establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, which forms the border between the modern states of Oregon and Washington. In those years, the most valuable natural resource in the North American interior was fur, and the Columbia drained the best fur country west of the continental divide. John Jacob Astor, ki Lewis & Clark returned from their two-year trek to the Pacific Northwest in 1806. Four years later, in 1810, more than a hundred men set out to leverage their discoveries and establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, which forms the border between the modern states of Oregon and Washington. In those years, the most valuable natural resource in the North American interior was fur, and the Columbia drained the best fur country west of the continental divide. John Jacob Astor, kingpin of the American fur trade, financed the venture. In Astor’s vision, the outpost would dominate the fur trade of the Pacific Northwest, evolve into an American colony that would prevent the region falling under British or Russian sway, and anchor a phenomenally lucrative global triangle trade that linked the furs of the Pacific Northwest with the wealth of China, Europe, and the seventeen United States of America. It was an ambitious undertaking with the potential to transform the destiny of the entire Pacific, and it’s the subject of Peter Stark’s fascinating new book "Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire." Unfortunately, things did not go well. Before “Astoria”—as the outpost came to be known—ground to its abysmal end, Stark writes that “sixty-one people had died in a gruesome spectrum of violent deaths.” Astor’s concept earned the enthusiastic support of Thomas Jefferson, but at the helm of a trading and real estate empire centered in New York, Astor didn’t personally command the venture. The rotten leadership exercised by the men Astor chose to lead in his stead doomed what might otherwise have grown into a wildly successful enterprise. Astor’s grand adventure went west in two groups. One traveled overland, across the belt of the continent. The other party sailed around Cape Horn aboard the sailing vessel Tonquin. Astor gave command of the Tonquin to Lieutenant Jonathan Thorn, a hero of the US Navy’s war with North Africa’s Barbary pirates. Thorn proved a poor choice. An arrogant and touchy martinet, Thorn couldn’t adapt his iron-fisted military leadership style to the more low-key manner required to gain and hold the respect of civilians. As Stark describes, Thorn’s personality combined “a rigid system of values and narrowly defined worldview” with “macho arrogance and a volatile temper”—a mixture “almost fated to go wrong.” The Tonquin had hardly cleared New York harbor before Thorn earned the enmity of the trappers aboard who would establish Astor’s Columbia River colony. Six months later, in March 1811, after stops in the Falklands and Hawaii, Thorn’s poor judgment killed eight members of the ship’s company as they tried to find safe passage through the treacherous sandbar stretched across the Columbia’s mouth. And that summer, with Astor’s “emporium” established ashore, Thorn took the Tonquin to trade for sea otter furs with the Clayoquot Indians on Vancouver Island. Contemptuous and dismissive of the natives, Thorn offended a local chief, grossly mishandled a trading encounter, and was caught unawares when the Indians stormed his ship with stone clubs. The Clayoquot killed Thorn and most his crew. Four survivors held out below decks and escaped in a longboat that night. The next day, the tribe was looting the Tonquin’s cargo when the one mortally wounded white man left behind detonated 9,000-pounds of gunpowder in the ship’s magazine. As Stark narrates: “The ship disappeared in a blinding flash and a billowing explosion of smoke. A thunderous roar rolled across the water, echoing for miles along the wooded coast. Torsos, limbs, heads, and pieces of flesh arced over the cove. Shattered bits of wood from the Tonquin’s thick hull and the cedar canoes rained down on the sea… Somewhere around two hundred Clayoquot perished… Body parts washed up on shore for days afterward.” The tribe hunted down the Tonquin’s four escaped seamen and slowly tortured them to death. The overland party came unglued in much less spectacular fashion. Whereas Captain Thorn ruled with too much iron, Wilson Hunt Price, who commanded the overland expedition, didn’t employ nearly enough force. Price dawdled his way across the continent, and Stark gives us excellent portraits of the flourishing native cultures Price passed through on his westering. The onset of winter caught Price’s party struggling to descend the treacherous canyons and rapids of the “Mad River,” as they called the Snake. Unable to force their way down Hell’s Canyon, Price and his fifty followers backtracked, ran out of food, and only survived with the aid of friendly Indians. Many died. The ragged survivors staggered into Astoria months overdue. Conditions were better in Astoria, but not by much. Stark describes it as a “dank, dark setting, fringed by violent death,” and Price discovered the men who’d founded Astoria ahead of him leading an “anxious, paranoid, exposed life.” Instead of staying with the colony, which Astor had charged him to lead, Price opted to gallivant around the Pacific on a resupply vessel Astor had sent around Cape Horn to succor the colony. Far removed from the scene, Price was unable to influence Astoria’s fate. Those left behind mismanaged their relations with the native tribes. The outbreak of the War of 1812 between England and the United States, the possible treachery of one or more of the Scottish Canadian fur traders, and the wreck of a resupply vessel doomed the adventure. The miserable survivors sold out to the rival Canadian Northwest Fur Company for pennies on the dollar and tried to struggle home—a journey many didn’t survive. The Astoria story was well known in Nineteenth Century America. Quite a number of survivors published accounts. John Jacob Astor himself commissioned Washington Irving, then one of the most famous American writers, to publish a book about the enterprise. The result was a bestseller in 1836. Through subsequent generations, the epic gradually slipped from the American consciousness. Peter Stark has done superb work resurrecting this fascinating story with the aid of journals, letters, articles, and survivors’ accounts, fleshing out his research with studies of Native American cultures and his own personal encounters with the relevant terrain. It’s an effective combination. Stark’s lucid prose moves quickly, in wonderful detail, as he unfolds Astoria’s gripping, tragic story on the canvass of a dangerous continent not yet brought to heel.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    On the heels of Lewis and Clark, came John Jacob Astor's audaciously funded enterprise: a Pacific trading outpost that would make the United States a Pacific trading power. The fortunes of the endeavor were well known to Americans in the 19th century (Washington Irving penned a best seller, Astoria), but have since faded. Stark recounts the history and tell the fates of the two expeditions Astor sent: one overland and the other by ship. Missteps, harrowing conditions, poor judgement, and global On the heels of Lewis and Clark, came John Jacob Astor's audaciously funded enterprise: a Pacific trading outpost that would make the United States a Pacific trading power. The fortunes of the endeavor were well known to Americans in the 19th century (Washington Irving penned a best seller, Astoria), but have since faded. Stark recounts the history and tell the fates of the two expeditions Astor sent: one overland and the other by ship. Missteps, harrowing conditions, poor judgement, and global politics all impacted the fate of these two expeditions. The story of the Pacific Northwest, the indigenous peoples, and the incredible land was actually the most fascinating part of the story. Human nature at its worst, poor leadership and a lack of collaboration resulted in too much violence, too many deaths and too many lost opportunities.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    3.75 ⭐️ Just shy of 4 ⭐️, this book is a really good look at the first American settlement on the West Coast - Astoria (in what is now Oregon). It’s a saga, taking place over land & sea, amidst the War of 1812, across the globe, with interactions with Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, & even a Russian Count, thwarting Astor’s plans to establish a global fur trade. Essential reading of a forgotten piece of American history.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dave E

    Astoria the current town is a place I enjoy visiting on occasion, but until I read this book, I had to plead ignorance on it's history. The Astoria in the book focuses on the attempted settlement of the area as the centerpiece of a would-be fur trading empire, and all that goes wrong in the process, before the founding of the town at a later date. It provides a glimpse into the lives of trappers and adventurers in the infancy of the American West, just a few short years after the Lewis and Clark Astoria the current town is a place I enjoy visiting on occasion, but until I read this book, I had to plead ignorance on it's history. The Astoria in the book focuses on the attempted settlement of the area as the centerpiece of a would-be fur trading empire, and all that goes wrong in the process, before the founding of the town at a later date. It provides a glimpse into the lives of trappers and adventurers in the infancy of the American West, just a few short years after the Lewis and Clark expedition. Overall a good read, enlightening me about a lesser know period of American history.

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