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Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  437 ratings  ·  66 reviews
From the best-selling author of Leviathan comes this sweeping narrative of one of America’s most historically rich industries.

Beginning his epic history in the early 1600s, Eric Jay Dolin traces the dramatic rise and fall of the American fur industry, from the first Dutch encounters with the Indians to the rise of the conservation movement in the late nineteenth century.
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published July 12th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 1st 2010)
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  437 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Aug 02, 2010 rated it liked it
In most failed relationships, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint the reasons things went wrong. One party or the other was unfaithful, or dishonest, or hygienically challenged, or possessed of a knife collection that includes more knives than you feel necessary.

Sometimes, though, things just don’t work out, and you can’t explain why. The chemicals aren’t present; there is no spark. Even though your partner showers regularly, never steals from your purse when you aren’t looking, and only has enough kn
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010s, history, usa, ccl
Recommend for history seekers. The local library has this cataloged 978. It has Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data, including ten separate subject entries. Alas, LC catalog number slots it over in 381, economics. Lost there for history shelf browsers. Wonder how many libraries are using purchased LC cataloging with Dewey 381'.45680973--dc22? Belongs in history!

1. Fur trade--North America--History.
2. Fur trade--West (U.S.)--History. ...
6. Europe--Colonies--America. ...
8. North Ame
Lauren Albert
Dec 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-american
Well-researched look at the fur trade from its earliest days. It was painful to read; I almost gave up half way through when he got to the clubbing of Sea Otters. Thankfully, most of the book focuses on the business and politics of the trade. A central, if depressing, part of American history.

One thing I forgot to include was a small critique of the author's overemphasis on the role of the fur trade in the War of 1812. He barely mentions impressment, for instance, which is central according to A
Ash Jogalekar
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous and highly revealing history of the fur trade in America, right from the first permanent European settlements in the 17th century to the end of the 19th century. A story of inspiring doggedness against an incredibly unforgiving environment and of the tragic clash of civilizations.

Dolin's basic thesis is that fur was to the 17th and 19th centuries what oil was to the 20th, and it was the possibility of buying beaver furs in unprecedented quantities for fashion-hungry Europe from India
Aug 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Another fantastic book! What a lot of things I never knew! I wish schools presented history this way. I think this book really gets to the heart of why and how certain events happened in our country. To say that there were French and Indian wars is not enough. To say the British fought the French and Indians is not enough. What were they fighting over? The impression in my mind from eons ago was simply land. But it was what the land signified, and it wasn't land for land's sake or simply for col ...more
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it
I saw this book at the library and decided to read it because I had been to the Museum of the North American Fur Trade in Chadron, NE and wanted to know more. As a side note, this MNAFT is a fantastic small museum and well worth a detour from a trip to The Badlands and the Black Hills. It started, or perhaps I started, off strong, but it quickly became repetitive. The argument didn't really seem to build through the book and I ended up skimming the last 60 pages or so because I had pretty much g ...more
David R.
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, and eye opening treatment of the oft-overlooked mainstay of colonial and early republican America: the fur trade (mostly beaver, but also otter and buffalo). Dolan considers a grand sweep from the 16th through 20th centuries, with especial emphasis on the fur wars of the northeast (1600s through 1780s) and the combat between Astor's American Fur Company and British interests in the early 18th Century. In addition, Dolan sensitively examines the complex relationships between traders ...more
Bruce Greene
This book is very readable but the author makes an unforgiveable mistake on page 212 by identifying James Monroe as the US President in 1812 who declared war on Great Britain. That type of mistake creates doubt in my mind over the veracity of the entire book. Thus I gave it 3* instead of 4.
Apr 13, 2015 added it
excellent. i got it because i was curious about astor(ia), but found the book compelling from cover to cover.
May 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
We read this for an animal rights reading group. I did not expect it to be really animal-friendly, but I was interested in this history. But not only is the book not overly friendly to animals (following the speciesist but accept language tradition of referring to a species of animals in the singular; i.e., beaver were being trapped, rather than beavers, which removes any semblance of individuality from the lives being [brutally] taken and lumps them together as a a unit or, in this case, produc ...more
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Riveting at first. Quite eye-opening about the founding of Plymouth. It's not just that Christians were migrating from European persecutors. The pilgrims were being bankrolled by European fur trade investors.

This book had me enthralled throughout the 1600s and early 1700s. The English, French, Dutch, and Spanish colonizers and their trade with the Indians were explained with greater context and made more sense than anything the old high school history textbooks conveyed.

However, I began losing i
Mar 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Expansive and far-reaching, Dolan's history of the fur trade in North America covers from the earliest European trading with Native Americans for the very skins they were wearing, all the way to the birth of the conservation movement in the late 19th century, with special focus on the beaver, sea otter, and buffalo industries, and the trajectory of the American Fur Company under its various permutations.

Of particular interest to me were the early competition between the Dutch and Swedish coloni
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This book holds a lot of valuable information. However, it's written from a Eurocentric point of view. Little attention is paid to Native Americans before and after the arrival of French and British fur traders. Our sympathies are directed toward white trappers and traders and businessmen like John Jacob Astor, who became a millionaire on the backs of North American animals and trappers before the advent of factory fur farms.
Sherri Anderson
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
This book had many interesting facts on the fur trade. I wish it would have spent more time on the trade Grand Portage. But I learned a lot about the pilgrims I did not know. I also learned a lot about the buffalo fur trade. it was easy to read and very understandable.
Yishen Kuik
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Makes it clear how critical beaver fur was to the early colonies of the US for economic survival, and how much of a role the fur trade played in determining the fate of the Native Americans, the colonists and the role of France and England in the New World.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book indelibly shifted my thinking on the early development of North America. Fur trading kept colonists alive before they were able to build the New England we usually think of as “the start of America.” It built fantastic fortunes (John Jacob Astor for one) and cities (New Amsterdam, most famously). The fur trade was also responsible for the greater portion of intermarriages between settlers and first peoples, as well as the first-ever economic welfare plan in the US. There are so many in ...more
Neil Geisel
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In depth and an enormous amount of historical content of Trappers and how the entire story unfolds from the founding of the west to the near extinction of the buffalo.
Rob Mathison
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a fun and interesting book (!!) about the American Fur Trade starting circa 1600. It has fascinating tales of all kinds while giving history lessons, and I learned things I didn't know before. The key points for me were that starting in the very early 1600s, the Dutch, English and to some extent the Swedes wrestled for control of the New England fur trade until the 1650s when the Dutch wiped out the Swedes then the English wiped out the Dutch. From there, the English and French wrestled ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty good book! Much better than I thought it would be when I originally bought it (at a discount). It's informative, illustrative, and provides a great background on how and why the U.S. was able to settle the West and to do so completely.

But the true magic of this, and it is magic, are the colorful anecdotes of rowdy mountain men and ruthless capitalists and salty explorers and skirmishes between Natives and the furriers. Many are entertaining, some distressing, but all engaging.
Ed Goertzen
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastically researched book and quite interesting if you enjoy learning about a particular historic event as it related to the culture, economics and the characters of the time. The book does focus more on the events that occurred in the U.S. rather than Canada and the Hudson Bay Company.
Ronald Kelland
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I chose this book because I was intrigued by the idea of learning about the fur trade from the American perspective. As the fur trade is absolutely essential to Canada's history, and myself being a Canadian historian, I am well-versed in Canadian fur trade history. The American side of the fur trade tends to be an overlooked aspect of both American history and general fur trade history. So, I wanted to see how this book handled the task, particularly as Canadian and American fur trade history ar ...more
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed many facets of this book, but in particular the tales of the trailblazing and pioneering that fur traders performed that ultimately led to (for better or for worse) the westward expansion of the republic. From the early explorers and settlers (Hudson, Champlain, the Pilgrims, French Canada), to the Lewis and Clark expedition, to John Jacob Astor's empire, to the various routes Mountain Men such as John Colter and Jedediah Smith took, Dolin lays out the degree to which the history of th ...more
Lauren Rev
Well-documented book outlining the history & effects of the fur trade in the United States. It touched on early exploration, detailed colonial efforts and ended with American expansion into the West. Though it touts itself as an epic history it pretty much stops in the early 1900's, barely touching in the epilogue issues occurring since that time, such as the anti-fur movement & the institution of fur farms.
Although I enjoyed the book with its mix of anecdotes, biographical sketches &a
Greg Strandberg
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
If you're interested in the fur trade of the early 1800s to the 1840s, this is a great book. It actually starts back with the discovery of the New World, but I glossed over those parts. I was mainly interested in the Upper Missouri in the 1810s and 1820s, but I got into the Astoria aspect of the American Fur Company as well.

The book does a good job profiling the buffalo robe trade that grew up in the 1830s and overtook furs when that fad died out. The book goes up to the 1890s in this regard, a
Jul 19, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book but I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I was with Leviathan. The book basically focused mostly on beaver trade, with a bit of otter and bison thrown in. I don't know if it was where his heart was, or if it was an increase in quality in primary sources but the more recent the history the better this book became. Sadly the first half of the book was pretty slow. I was reading it more because of a sense of duty than enjoyment, however the second half was much better and I foun ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Aug 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: sept-oct-2010
In telling the story of fur, Dolin needed to come to grips not just with the histories of several empires in the Americas but with the fields of biology, technology, economics, and, of course, fashion as well. Reviewers who enjoyed a comprehensive view and who appreciated the need for such a history tended to give Dolin considerable credit for this feat. But other critics wrote that telling so many stories over several centuries sometimes gave Fur, Fortune, and Empire the feel of a textbook--an ...more
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it

Think you understood U.S. History? Eric Jay Dolan will offer a new perspective on how we got here and why we stayed.

The importance of the trapper, and of furs, is explained in an engaging and fascinating way taking the reader through U.S. History from the Pilgrims to the Golden Spike. Circumstances I never considered brought to light and explained, such that a myriad of other historical facts fell into place.

Ever wondered how John Jacob Astor made his money? Do you know what drew Kit Cars
Anja Manning
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
This was such a fascinating topic! The beginning pulled me in immediately, and offered a view of American (and European) history from a very different angle than one might be used to. The combination of politics, explorers and Pilgrims, as well as animal descriptions left me much the wiser.

I gave this book four stars because I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second half - and I am not sure why that is. I had the impression that the story was much more cohesive in the beginn
Paula Mein
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I started this primarily because it focused a good deal on the early American colonies, Massachusetts in particular and the relevance of the fur trade to the founding of the area. I found it interesting and revealing, that so much of the early history of the country hung on the fur trade.
Its a good history lesson, and a moral lesson as well. It vividly shows how humans, in their greed and stupidity, can do such damage. Though it also shows us that with the foresight of a few, we can reverse tha
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Over time, it is all too common for people to lose touch with their heritage, as the thrill and immediacy of the present crowds out the echoes and lessons of the past. It would be a shame if that were to happen with respect to the fur trade. It is a seminal part of who we are as a nation, and how we came to be.” The 16th through 19th centuries saw voyageurs and later mountain men map out the continent in the fur trade of beaver, buffalo, sea otter, and other animal skins. 'Fur, Fortune, and Empi ...more
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Starred Review in Publishers Weekly 1 8 May 26, 2010 09:53PM  
Kirkus Starred Review 1 6 May 23, 2010 12:19PM  
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I love telling dramatic, sometimes wondrous, and often tragic stories about people, commerce, maritime history, and the environment. My goal is to entertain and inform, and leave people glad that they took the time to read one of my books.

My most recent book is Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (Liveright (a division of W. W. Norton), September 2018).
“Over time, it is all too common for people to lose touch with their heritage, as the thrill and immediacy of the present crowds out the echoes and lessons of the past. It would be a shame if that were to happen with respect to the fur trade. It is a seminal part of who we are as a nation, and how we came to be.” 3 likes
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