Jon Kukla's exuberant book, A Wilderness So Immense, is not about the wilderness that extended west of the Mississippi to the Rockies and only briefly about the Louisiana Purchase. Instead, Kukla, the director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, recounts the colorful story of the long and complicated struggles in the 1780's and 90's for unimpeded use of the river and its southernmost port. The Louisiana Purchase itself was merely the unexpected coda to two decades of painstaking — and fascinating — negotiations. — Susan Dunn
Kukla has done his homework. His account is thoroughly researched and skillfully written, and he effectively places the Purchase in a wider, global context. Kukla shows us why and how the Purchase happened and explains its importance to America's future. If you're trying to select from among the many books being published this year on the Louisiana Purchase (2003 marks the bicentennial), this might be the one. — Chuck Leddy
Until a better one comes along, which is unlikely, this is now the book to read of the growing crop of works on the Louisiana Purchase in this bicentennial year. It differs from Charles Cerami's bracing Jefferson's Great Gamble (Forecasts, Jan. 27) by its deeper foundation of scholarly knowledge, from Roger Kennedy's overstriving Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause (Forecasts, Feb. 3) by being less idiosyncratic. Kukla (coauthor of Patrick Henry) offers up a splendid, beautifully written narrative focused tightly on the complex historic origins of the Purchase and on the diplomacy that pulled it off. Necessarily, his tale takes in the whole world, including the aspirations of Napoleon's failed forays into the Western Hemisphere and his resulting need for cash. But Kukla stays firmly on this side of the Atlantic. Jefferson takes center stage, but his Federalist opponents, whose sometimes disunionist machinations kept matters complex, are in the wings. Kukla's portraits of the principal diplomats-Robert Livingston and James Monroe on the American side; Talleyrand, Fran ois de Barbe-Marbois and Napoleon on the French-deftly illuminate the crucial mix of personality, circumstance and skill that made the United States a continental nation so early in its existence. Unlike many other historians, Kukla favors none of the story's characters but evenhandedly gives all their due. The book lacks only a grand theme to match its grand subject-what most contemporaries and all historians since have judged to be one of the most significant events in the nation's history. Nevertheless, this judicious, aptly illustrated work will gratify all its readers. Rarely does a work of history combine grace of writing with such broad authority. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The story of how the United States doubled in size in 1803 is at the heart of this richly detailed narrative, published to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Kukla (director, Patrick Henry Memorial Fdn.; Bill of Rights: A Lively Heritage) presents a balanced account of the complex diplomatic and political maneuverings that led to the purchase. He covers topics familiar to the informed lay reader, for example, the American and Haitian revolutions, and the diplomatic and political maneuverings of famous people like Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. But readers will fully appreciate that among the book's several strengths are that Kukla heavily mines the documentary sources from manuscript collections to bring to the foreground French and Spanish rulers, diplomats, and other individuals and lesser-known American officials like Robert Livingston who are familiar mainly to specialists. Kukla closes with a discussion of Anglo-Americans baffled by the racial and cultural diversity of New Orleans and of slavery, which bedeviled the nation until 1865. Less analytical than Roger Kennedy's Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause, Kukla's book, with its colorful personalities and more accessible narrative, may work better in public libraries, though academic libraries should consider as well.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Lively account of America’s first giant step toward empire. The American settlement of the trans-Appalachian West had already begun when Thomas Jefferson went off to Paris in 1786, writes Kukla (Director/Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation), as land-hungry immigrants from the British Isles poured over the frontier into lands claimed by Spain and, following the rise of Napoleon, by France. Some of those newcomers weren’t above a little treason to secure their fortunes under the Spanish crown; throughout the US, secessionist movements and rebellions against federal authority were flourishing, and Jefferson had every reason to worry about the emergence of rival confederations set up by Americans as much as he did the intransigent British and other European powers on the frontier. To contain all these ambitions required an ever-expanding empire, Jefferson recognized--but, he warned, "we should take care to not . . . press too soon on the Spaniards. Those countries [of the West] cannot be in better hands. My fear is that they are too feeble to hold them till our population can be sufficiently advance to gain it from them piece by piece." While Jefferson and company’s intensive negotiations with the Spanish and French governments over nearly two decades form the heart of this thoroughly detailed account, Kukla lifts his eyes above the conference table to show how accidents of history hastened the acquisition of the Louisiana territory along--notably a slave rebellion in Haiti that kept much of the overseas French army pinned down and thus thwarted Napoleon’s "dream of a revived empire" in North America, but also the strange indifference of Congress, which might have stopped Jefferson in histracks had its members worried too much about the constitutionality of the purchase. A worthy additional contribution to the burgeoning literature, timed for the bicentennial of Mr. Jefferson’s vast acquisition. History Book Club main selection/Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn/Sagalyn Agency
“A sprawling and absorbing account . . . [of] how individual characters and appetites interweave to create great events. . . . Hugely entertaining and wonderfully informative.”Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Kukla’s vivid fresco . . . is peopled by a cast that includes kings, queens, ministers, adventurers, generals, politicians, presidents." —The New York Times Book Review
“As exciting and readable a narrative of the Louisiana Purchase as we’re likely to get in the foreseeable future.” —The New Republic
“Kukla writes history that reads with the urgency of a suspense novel. . . . Best of all, his graceful prose sings with the conviction of one telling a great story.” Dallas Morning News
“A sweeping tale . . . . [Kukla’s] ability to interweave evocative anecdotes, biography and colorful asides with the complex diplomatic, military and political events that led up to the Louisiana Purchase makes A Wilderness So Immense fresh, stylish and compelling.” —Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“A story of fascinating international intrigue and fallible human beings dealing with issues far beyond their comprehension. It is the best book on the subject yet available.” –The Baltimore Sun
“As exciting and readable a narrative of the Louisiana Purchase as we are likely to get in the foreseeable future.” –The New Republic
“Enlightening. . . Kukla is good at showing what a ferment of ideas and resultant activities the world was going through at this time.” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A thoroughly readable, entertaining, and informative history of the incredible period that led to the purchase of a land that doubled the size of the United States. . . . A wonderful book, not to be missed.” –Decatur Daily
“A well-researched study. . . . Packed with fast-moving descriptions of the complicated negotiations. Kukla has a fine sense of context and detail.” –Roanoke Times
“A wonderful story, wonderfully told.” –W.W. Abbot, Editor Emeritus of The Papers of George Washington