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Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in Americaby Eric Jay Dolin
"The myth of the American fur trade is so imbued with romance that it is easy to forget the real reasons behind the decimation of the natural resources at hand. From John Colter's epic 250-mile sprint — au natural — from at first bemused and then enraged Blackfeet Indians to Buffalo Bill Cody's personal killing of 4,280 buffalo in one year, the lore of the fur trade is as endemic to the American story as is that of the 19th-century cowboy....Eric Jay Dolin's new book, Fur, Fortune, and Empire, The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America, is here to tell the real story behind the men who transformed a continent while in pursuit of pelts. Or, at least as much of the story that can be told in 464 pages." Peter Sleeth, The Oregonian (read the entire Oregonian review)
Synopses & Reviews
As Henry Hudson sailed up the broad river that would one day bear his name, he grew concerned that his Dutch patrons would be disappointed in his failure to find the fabled route to the Orient. What became immediately apparent, however, from the Indians clad in deer skins and "good furs" was that Hudson had discovered something just as tantalizing.
The news of Hudson's 1609 voyage to America ignited a fierce competition to lay claim to this uncharted continent, teeming with untapped natural resources. The result was the creation of an American fur trade, which fostered economic rivalries and fueled wars among the European powers, and later between the United States and Great Britain, as North America became a battleground for colonization and imperial aspirations.
In Fur, Fortune, and Empire, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the rise and fall of the fur trade of old, when the rallying cry was "get the furs while they last." Beavers, sea otters, and buffalo were slaughtered, used for their precious pelts that were tailored into extravagant hats, coats, and sleigh blankets. To read Fur, Fortune, and Empire then is to understand how North America was explored, exploited, and settled, while its native Indians were alternately enriched and exploited by the trade. As Dolin demonstrates, fur, both an economic elixir and an agent of destruction, became inextricably linked to many key events in American history, including the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, as well as to the relentless pull of Manifest Destiny and the opening of the West.
This work provides an international cast beyond the scope of any Hollywood epic, including Thomas Morton, the rabble-rouser who infuriated the Pilgrims by trading guns with the Indians; British explorer Captain James Cook, whose discovery in the Pacific Northwest helped launch America's China trade; Thomas Jefferson who dreamed of expanding the fur trade beyond the Mississippi; America's first multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, who built a fortune on a foundation of fur; and intrepid mountain men such as Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith, who sliced their way through an awe inspiring and unforgiving landscape, leaving behind a mythic legacy still resonates today.
Concluding with the virtual extinction of the buffalo in the late 1800s, Fur, Fortune, and Empire is an epic history that brings to vivid life three hundred years of the American experience, conclusively demonstrating that the fur trade played a seminal role in creating the nation we are today.
"Eric Jay Dolin has crafted a stunning companion to his recent history of the American whaling industry, one that situates the sprawling pageant of American history — from the founding of Plymouth Colony to the conquest of the Pacific Northwest and the Great Plains — squarely within the saga of the North American fur trade. Focusing on the three-century chase for wealth in fur, this lively, balanced, and carefully researched account evokes an epic clash of empires from one end of the continent to the other. The book charts the rise and expansion of the American republic on the back of fur-bearing mammals and chronicles, along the way, a rogues' gallery of astonishingly vivid characters, from Henry Hudson himself and John Jacob Astor, down through Jedediah Smith, Joseph Walker, and Kit Carson. A wonderful and timely rendering of a heedless and bloody minded age." Ric Burns, documentary filmmaker
"Benjamin Franklin famously mused that the turkey might be a good symbol for the United States; we opted for the eagle instead. But a compelling case could be made for the beaver. In a sense, we owe the European settlement of the North American continent to that intrepid engineer of the animal world....[Dolin] brings together all the exhilarating and tragic aspects of the [fur] trade through the 19th century... an absorbing and comprehensive ride through the trade's history." Anne Bartlett
"A beaver might be a more fitting national symbol for America than a bald eagle, given the way the quest for that rodent's fur shaped this country's history, from its earliest colonial days to its Manifest Destiny westward drive and beyond....Packed with intriguing tidbits... Fur, Fortune and Empire serves as a fur-focused refresher course on American history that will have readers reconsidering the powerful role the fur trade played in swaying in our nations history. The narrative of Fur, Fortune and Empire suggests that if you're proud to be an American, you can thank the beaver." BookPage
"Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, now turns his keen eye on another fabled extractive enterprise in Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. With impressive erudition and lively wit, Dolin charts the astonishing development and impact of this fashion-driven trade from its inception in the early 17th century to the late 1880s, by which time it had created legends and fortunes, fueled imperial expansion, irrevocably altered Native American existence and devastated entire species." Jenny Shank New West
"This is the story of the skinning of a continent....[Dolin] explains how the fur trade shaped the exploration, settlement and development of North America....interesting, well-researched book." Anna Mundow Boston Globe
"The great virtue of the book is in its sweep....[Dolin's] ambition to tell the whole story of the American fur trade brings a depth of understanding to the economic driver the fur trade was that few other authors put forth....Ultimately, Fur, Fortune, and Empire is at once a sad and thrilling tale of the inevitable destruction of resources and cultures in the name of social evolution." Seattle Times
Book News Annotation:
This engrossing account details the history of the North American fur trade from the early 1600's through the end of the 19th century. Its role in the expansion of the colonies and opening of the West, as well as connections to the American Revolution, the French and Indian War, and the War of 1812 are explored over the course of fifteen well sourced chapters. Mountain men such as Jedediah Smith are profiled, as are explorers, merchants, captains of industry, and others whose lives revolved around the fur trade. The work chronicles both the rise and fall of the North American fur trade in an engaging manner which will appeal to readers interested in the history of the American West. A map of trade routes west of the Mississippi and a selection of color plates from the era are provided. Dolin is an award winning nonfiction author. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the best-selling author of Leviathan comes this sweeping narrative of one of America's most historically rich industries.
A selection for one of Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010 Winner of the New England Historial Association's 2010 James P. Hanlan Award Winner of the Outdoor Writers Association of America 2011 Excellence in Craft Award, Book Division, First Place "A compelling and well-annotated tale of greed, slaughter and geopolitics." — From the best-selling author of comes this sweeping narrative of one of America's most historically rich industries.
About the Author
Eric Jay Dolin is the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe, and also won the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History; and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in environmental policy, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.
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