From the moment survivors of Captain Cook's third voyage of discovery found that sea otter skins procured from Northwest Coast Indians would bring $100 apiece on the Chinese market, the future of the coast, the Indians, and the sea otters was irrevocably altered. Tom Clark's serial poetic history of the maritime fur trade (1785-1810) documents and elaborates that change, linking white world fur traders with indigenes in extended metaphors of contact and confrontation. Distilling fact from decisive instance to yield an elegiac narrative of the original encounter, the poems develop implications that bring the story into current perspectives, engaging ethnology, ecology, Indian cultural and mythic history, geography, European and American civilized' (white world) vs. primitive' ways of thinking.
"No doubt about it", writes Western poet and historian Edward Dorn, "Empire of Skin is one of the great books of recent decades. The Cook sequences particularly are vivid and precisely measured and bring the record of the amazing venality of the Northwest coast to life. It's the greatest work on the fur trade since Colonel Chittenden".