Book Review: Astoria

Aug 7, 2015

  

ASTORIA, by Peter Stark

  This is KLCC.  I'm Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of "Astoria" by Peter Stark.

For anyone living in the KLCC listening area, Peter Stark's historical adventure is a fascinating read.  The full title gives you a hint: "Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival."

Stark writes of the visionary early 19th century venture by millionaire John Jacob Astor, who financed the first American settlement on the Pacific coast, intending to dominate the global fur trade. Astor sent two parties – one by land and one by sea – complete with carefully chosen leaders, detailed instructions, and plenty of supplies and trade goods.   Little went as planned. Aboard the square-rigged sailing ship, the Tonquin, squabbles broke out from the very beginning between the authoritarian American captain, the clannish Scottish partners, and the French voyageurs.  Astor’s choice of a 31-year-old naval hero, Captain Jonathan Thorn, as the boat’s commander, exacerbated the tensions on board and in the eventual colony. The overland party was led by Wilson Price Hunt, a 27-year-old American businessman.  His patient, consensus-building approach to leadership, in combination with a lack of actual wilderness experience, caused terrible delays – leading to the party being caught in the mountains over the winter.  The group endured extreme hunger and thirst during the journey, killing and eating their horses and even drinking their own urine to survive.   One compelling theme of both adventures was culture clashes with various Native American tribes, many friendly, some deadly misunderstandings.   Another theme was the conflict over who would exploit and control the profitable West Coast fur trade – Britain or the fledgling America?  Eventually, Astor was betrayed when his second in command, Duncan McDougall, sold the entire enterprise, at thirty cents on the dollar, to the British during the War of 1812.
A well written, fascinating book about a little known era of our early history. This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing "Astoria” by Peter Stark.