"Astoria" by Peter Stark (2015)
"After their meeting, Astor had framed his global commercial vision into an overarching strategy and meticulous business plan that dovetailed with Jefferson's geopolitical thinking. As soon as possible, in 1809, Astor would dispatch his first ship, the Enterprise, to test the profitability of his transglobal trading scheme with a quick stop at the Northwest Coast. The following year, in 1810, he would send two advance parties - one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by land. The Overland Party would begin to lay out a vast network of fur posts reaching up the Missouri River, over the Rockies, and to the Pacific Ocean, and open a 'line of communication' across the continent along which both messages and furs could travel."
Peter Stark lives in Montana. He's written for Outside, The New Yorker, and the Smithsonian. Astoria is one of several books he's written on the subject of "explorers versus the American wilderness."
Following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, two groups of trappers and traders set out to create a Pacific empire at the mouth of the Columbia River. What they get for their troubles is a lot of pain, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartbreak. Their efforts are doomed to failure for a host of reasons, not least of which is their extreme distance from what they'd call civilization.
Astoria offers a harrowing account of their enterprise, and Peter Stark's telling of this oft-forgotten tail is one of the most comprehensively written historical accounts I've read in quite some time. He strikes a good balance between historical trivia and the facts of the expedition, and he makes the personages involved more interesting than they might otherwise be. This book is so good, in fact, that I can't think of a single negative thing to say about it - aside from the fact that many modern readers, with their diminished attention spans - will likely find it "boring."
I bought this book at the same time as the previously reviewed The Oregon Trail, and even though both are good, I think Astoria is far more interesting. It's worth noting, moreover, than many of the trails blazed by the failed Astoria expedition (in particular the South Pass through the Rockies) were later used by those going West on the Oregon Trail. Astoria itself was one of the two most popular endpoints for that route.
Having spent a lot of time in Astoria as a kid, I was surprised at both the history and the human drama present during its earliest years. Who knew that so much blood, sweat, and tears could go into the creation of a small town on the Oregon Coast?
Another Book You Might Like?
"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan (2002)