Astoria: Astor and Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
“[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.”
Washington Post
“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.”
Wall Street Journal
“In Astoria, Peter Stark recounts the colony’s history as a fast-paced, enjoyable adventure tale.”
Inlander
“A great yarn set in our own corner of the continent.”
Booklist
“... a thrilling true-adventure tale ... A breathtaking account of an expedition that changed the geography of a young nation and its place in global commerce and politics.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The story of its founders is harshly inspiring, a deeply researched look into the irresistible drive to explore the unknown and the capacity of people to survive, not only the elements, but one another.”
New York Times Book Review
“Stark’s delightful narrative is proof that even though Astor didn’t leave the legacy he intended, his grand failure certainly deserves its own place in history.”
Bellingham Herald
“For better or worse, the precedents set by Astor and his expeditions created a tangible American legacy of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and manifest destiny. Carefully researched and splendidly written—an utterly spellbinding account.”
Seattle Times
“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.”
Portland Oregonian
“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.”
New York Post
“New York businessman Astor, with support from President Jefferson, launched two expeditions in 1810 - overland and by ship ... and Stark recounts the perilous journeys.”
Bookpage
“Author Peter Stark retraces the journey in spellbinding detail, making use of journals to get inside the minds of these explorers who set out just two years after Lewis and Clark successfully crossed the continent. . . . Astoria brings to life a harrowing era of American exploration.”
Parade Magazine
“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.”
David James Duncan
Astoria is a scintillating corrective to the “guts and glory” school of American history and economics. [...] Grandiose visions ... have consequences, and Peter Stark’s depiction of the body count that results from this one unfolds with the inevitability of a fine tragedy and comedic zing of a good action flick.
William Kittredge
“This saga of ambition and adventure and courage is vividly told and thoroughly researched, a not very well known story of ambition confounded. Shipwrecks, bloodiness, and starve-to-death treks through drifted snow in the Rockies-Astoria is a hard-edged beauty.”
BookReporter.com
“A truly great adventure story, filled with high drama and hardship that would put ‘Survivor’ cast members into a tailspin of humility.”
BookBrowse.com
“Peter Stark does readers a very large service in reminding us about this extraordinary and important piece of North American history. I can’t recommend Astoria highly enough for anyone interested in the colonization of the American West.”
Portland Mercury
“Astoria is ultimately worth reading not just because it’s about Oregon history, but because it contextualizes Oregon’s past within American history. . . . The book is a welcome departure from romanticized tales of Lewis and Clark or of later pioneers.”
Nathaniel Philbrick
“Peter Stark’s Astoria picks up where the Lewis and Clark Expedition leaves off, providing a fascinating and sometimes terrifying window into the brutal and acquisitive essence of not only America but of the human condition. It’s also a great and ... an ennobling tale of survival. Highly recommended.”
Albany Times Union
“Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head.”
Laurence Gonzalez
“Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head.”
Stephenie Ambrose-Tubbs
“A splendid account of the man and men who had the audacity, passion, and courage to dream of an American Empire. Peter Stark’s Astoria is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the power of leadership in its purest form.”
Jack Nisbet
“Peter Stark leaps aboard at the very beginning of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Northwest enterprise, then clings tenaciously to witness every twist, by land and by sea, along the entire desperate ride.”
Crosscut (Seattle)
“Stark’s compelling, contextual account of Astoria’s founding—at one time documented by none other than author Washington Irving - casts this early venture as a pivotal point in the development of the Pacific Northwest and the nation.”
Nancy Pearl on NPR's "Morning Edition"
“A valuable book . . .but more importantly for my perspective, it’s really good reading.”
Coast Weekend
“Well researched and historically accurate, [Astoria] reads much like an adventure novel, engaging you from start to finish.”
The New York Times Book Review - Jessica Loudis
…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.
Publishers Weekly
12/23/2013
At the dawn of the 19th century, America's Eastern coast had largely been settled, but the West remained largely uncharted and undeveloped. In 1810, entrepreneur John Jacob Astor proposed to Thomas Jefferson that Astor start a trading colony in what is now Oregon. In a page-turning tale of ambition, greed, politics, survival, and loss, historian Stark (The Last Empty Spaces) chronicles Astor's mad dash to establish a fur-trading company, Astoria, which would capture the territory's wealth and allow Jefferson to inaugurate his vision of a democracy from sea to shining sea. Astor sent two parties to build his empire, one by sea and one by land. They were to reach the Pacific coast at the same time, but dissension among the leaders of the overland party, as well as Indian attacks and other logistical difficulties, kept it from arriving according to plan. The sea party aboard the Tonquin was scarcely more fortunate. The establishment of the short-lived Astoria coincided with the War of 1812, and in October 1813, Duncan McDougall sold out the trading post to the British. Stark eloquently concludes that though Astoria failed, Astor's vision and drive pushed settlers to establish a Western presence, altering the shape of the American nation. (Mar.)
Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
Stark (The Last Empty Places) vividly writes of fur trader John Jacob Astor's capitalist quest, put forth in 1810, to establish an American colony on the northern Pacific coast at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. His grand plans to connect an Atlantic-based America to the trade routes of the Pacific were encouraged by President Jefferson; both men wanted an American presence firmly established in the continental Northwest in competition with the British fur explorations of David Thompson. Stark's strong familiarity with the terrain of the Rocky Mountain states and the use of the explorers' journals serve him well in his reconstruction of the expedition's overland journeys along the Snake River of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. His fascinating account of the journey's fast sailing ship, the Tonquin, headed to Oregon by sea, provides a dramatic narrative of power struggles with the coastal Native Americans. VERDICT Stark's book complements Larry Morris's The Perilous West, which concentrates on the establishment of the Oregon Trail. Lay and undergraduate readers will appreciate this title that never loses its focus on the founding of Astoria as the prime objective within Astor's push west. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13]—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-01-04
A correspondent for Outside recovers a remarkable piece of history: the story of America's first colony on the continent's West coast. Beginning in 1810, John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) set in motion an audacious plan to create "the largest commercial enterprise the world has ever known." He planned to control North America's entire fur trade by establishing a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, the lynchpin of a network extending west to the Pacific Rim and east to Europe. President Thomas Jefferson encouraged the venture, envisioning Astor's proposed settlement as the beginning of a "sister democracy" to the United States. From his base in Manhattan, Astor launched a two-pronged expedition: an Overland Party that carved a path later known as the Oregon Trail and a Sea-Going Party that sailed around Cape Horn to the coastal region west of the Rockies. Stark (The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey through the Blank Spots on the American Map, 2010, etc.) spins the tale of these arduous journeys, the founding of Astoria and the outpost's abandonment during the War of 1812. He focuses on the tyrannical sea captain, the beleaguered, consensus-seeking businessman, and the shady, self-important fur trader who headed the parties and the French voyageurs, Yankee seamen, and Scottish woodsmen they commanded, as well as the Native American tribes they encountered. If the character of Astor remains indistinct, not so the horrors faced by the Astorians. Their various ordeals give Stark the chance to comment on cold water immersion and hypothermia, the efficacy of pounded, dried wild cherries in combating scurvy, and the intriguing role of what we would today call PTSD in the early exploration of North America. Near the end of his life, Astor employed Washington Irving to tell the astonishing story of Astoria. With Stark, this almost unbelievable tale remains in expert hands. A fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062218308
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/10/2015
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 135,882
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stark is the author of The Last Empty Spaces: A Past And Present Journey Through The Blank Spots On The American Map; Last Breath: The Limits Of Adventure; and At The Mercy Of The River: An Exploration Of The Last African Wilderness. A correspondent for Outside, he has written for Smithsonian and The New Yorker, among other publications, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. He lives in Montana.

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