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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  9,662 ratings  ·  1,222 reviews

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

Hardcover, 366 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Ecco
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Matthew This book covers the same subject matter and uses Irving's book as a reference. I understand that Irving's version is somewhat exaggerated and this bo…moreThis book covers the same subject matter and uses Irving's book as a reference. I understand that Irving's version is somewhat exaggerated and this book attempts to correct some of the historical inaccuracies and is written for a modern reader of history.(less)

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Start your review of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
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
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, go-west
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
Kerri Anne
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-stories
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
Matthew Hall
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
White dudes are stupid but brave.
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Andy Miller
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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) ...more
Dec 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American history
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: GR review of Will Byrnes
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 ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
When I think of the the Astors, it is wealthy Mrs. Astor and her 400. This John Jacob Astor was the penniless immigrant who came to the US when we were still a fledgling country not yet with a Constitution nor a Bill of Rights. He'd left Walldorf, Germany behind and did not want to continue in the family business of butchers. While this begins with a bit more of the biography of this immigrant Astor, it is really a history.

In the first decade of the 19th Century, the American west was untamed. F
Jane Peterson
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Northern empire

Well documented tale of Asters fur empire. Fascinating adventures and conflicts of these trappers and mountain men surviving in wilderness
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 ...more
11811 (Eleven)
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Mar 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Vinh Nguyen
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Patrick Gibson
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, the_west
‘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 ...more
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
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 ...more
Christine Boyer
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Northwest residents, American history
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
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history, oregon
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 ...more
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
Bettendorf Library
Nov 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent two parties to establish a settlement in the Pacific Northwest, with the eventual aim of creating a global trade empire. Astoria tells the stories of both the seagoing party, which sailed around Cape Horn and stopped in Hawaii for supplies before reaching the Oregon coast, and the overland party, which traveled by canoe and on foot and horseback, eventually deviating from the route Lewis and Clark had used just a few years earlier. Stark does a terrific job with bo ...more
Owen Little
Jun 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Similar to the Green Mile, where there was a lot of history at first, and then once you got involved with the characters, it was much more enjoyable. However, it fell short with character development because of how many men contributed to the effort of establishing Astoria. Character development isn't the main point of the story - it's much more to tell history, so thats just personal preference. Not bad, not great. ...more
Rex Fuller
Mar 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Christopher Taylor
Sep 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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)
Brendan Monroe
Well, hello!! Yes, it's been a while since I've written one of these, mainly because I've been in Astoria these past 2+ months and that has coincided with a significant lapse in my review writing. I just haven't done a very good job of keeping up with anything that's been happening around here, and that has made me sad so I have chosen today, my friends, to remedy that.

So while I could write a proper review of this book, about the founding of Astoria, a town many of you have likely never heard o
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“But he lacked a sense of urgency at key periods, and lacked a firm hand when one was sometimes called for. His greatest strength may have proved his greatest flaw—one that finally sunk John Jacob Astor’s West Coast empire. Wilson Price Hunt vastly preferred cooperation to confrontation.” 0 likes
“I view [your undertaking],” Jefferson would write to Astor, “as the germ of a great, free and independent empire on that side of our continent, and that liberty and self-government spreading from that side as well as this side, will ensure their complete establishment over the whole.” 0 likes
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