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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  6,931 ratings  ·  918 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…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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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
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
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
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
Matthew Hall
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
White dudes are stupid but brave.
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.
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
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
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
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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)
Apr 20, 2014 rated it 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
Gregory Crouch
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Lewis & Clark returned from their two-year trek to the Pacific Northwest in 1806. Four years later, in 1810, more than a hundred men set out to leverage their discoveries and establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, which forms the border between the modern states of Oregon and Washington. In those years, the most valuable natural resource in the North American interior was fur, and the Columbia drained the best fur country west of the continental divide. John Jacob Astor ...more
I had never heard of this expedition, even if I did know that the Astor family fortune came from Beaver pelts (there is a mosaic of a Beaver at the Astor Place subway stop after all). It probably suffered by comparison with the Lewis and Clark expedition, which only occurred about five years earlier. That's not to say it wasn't a sensational story for a long time, thanks to a best-selling book by Washington Irving; however, it's not a heroic tale. In fact, it could be read as a how-not-to manage ...more
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
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful narration of a little known bit of history. Just one bizarre tale after the next. (Side note: Visited Astoria this past weekend with my book pals to experience the 21st century version of the place and discuss the book. Loved the museums and terrific old homes.)
Heidi Burkhart
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful history of the development of the Pacific Northwest. Stark's perspective of the events was summed up at the end of the book, and added much to the events and people that shaped this period in America's growth and development.
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book came highly recommended by a fellow Hood Riverian, and I thought it would fit nicely for Reading Challenge category #43, a book set in a city/place I have lived.

What most surprised me was how parts of this (very true, well-researched) story read like a thriller. Other sections weren't quite as adrenaline-pumping, but were equally fascinating; I've been telling everyone about how amazing sea otter* fur is and also how they have a little skin pocket in their armpits into which they tuck
Bob Schnell
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"Astoria" by Peter Stark tells the little-known story of an empire that almost was in the Pacific Northwest. Not long after the more famous Lewis and Clark expedition, John Jacob Astor saw an opportunity to create a global trade route encompassing New York, Africa, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest (to be re-named "Astoria") and China. The only things stopping him were unexplored wilderness, unfriendly tribes, uncharted ocean and British competition that was leading up to the War of 1812. However, J ...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 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's so funny that, on the West Coast, Astoria is primarily known for being the location in which the movie The Goonies was shot, and its namesake is almost entirely forgotten. Especially since this story was one of the better known ones 175 years ago. Apparently having been the 4th wealthiest man in America at one point doesn't mean you leave much of a legacy. And yet Astor's impact on the development of the Pacific Rim and the northwest in particular, as shown in this book, was at least as gre ...more
Greg Strandberg
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is an amazing account of the somewhat doomed 1811 Astoria Expedition.

The book is great at profiling the specifics. We get the exact mileage by day that the group was heading down the Snake River, for instance. We know the supplies they carried overland on horses after leaving the Arikara Villages in July 1811. We know the route they took to get to the Snake and then what happened after.

It's the 'what happened after' that'll be of interest to most readers. The Wilson Price Hunt overland exp
Ken Garrett
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Astoria" was a delight to listen to--even made the I-5 commute into PDX not only tolerable, but enjoyable! Meticulous historical research, vivid description of characters, and an insightful evaluation of overall historical import of the Astor party's amazing journeys to the NW Pacific wilderness (one group traveled overland, one by sea). The central character of the story is the geography; the looming, threatening, unforgiving terrain, weather, rivers and sea of the Pacific Northwest. This is m ...more
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, history, nonfiction
Fascinating combination of history and true adventure, as John Jacob Astor schemes to put a trading post in the Pacific northwest to capitalize on the China trade and to extend Jefferson's nation from sea to sea. It's also a tale of exploration, as Astor sends out two groups: one by land across the Rockies and the other by sea around the Cape from Boston. Both groups meet perils from nature, natives, and from other members of the group--lots of cultural classes with Native Americans as well as w ...more
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much about the beginning of American settlement in the Pacific NW, the hardships faced to get there and the conflicts between the settlers and the Native Americans, from both viewpoints. Living in the Pacific NW, it was interesting to follow the overland journey and try to figure out the modern name for the places described. Peter Stark always gave the modern name before moving on and I was correct much (but not all) of the time. Also fun to read about locations like Celilo Falls, g ...more
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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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