Synopses & Reviews
At the dawn of the nineteenth century two empires met on the far side of North America. Spain was the tired and hidebound colonial master of much of the Americas. Russia was the upstart, hungry for America's Pacific Northwest coast, a prize left unclaimed after the golden age of exploration.
The dream of a Russian America became the goal of the Russian America Company, championed and led by Nikolai Rezanov, aristocratic adventurer, diplomat, and courtier to Tsar Alexander I. At a time when John Jacob Astor was amassing his own fortune in the fur trade, Rezanov envisioned transforming fur-hunting stations on the Alaskan coast into the hub of a Pacific empire stretching from Siberia to California. The distances were vast — thousands of miles overland across the endless Russian steppes, thousands more by sea to Alaska and down to San Francisco Bay. His men were unreliable — disorderly, dissolute, disease-ridden — and the dangers ever-present. Yet Rezanov persisted, and in 1806 — just as Lewis and Clark were discovering the Columbia River to the north — he came close to realizing his dream. Had he done so, the history of the United States might have been very different.
Owen Matthews brilliantly chronicles a hitherto untold story of adventure and colonial ambition, brought to life by vivid firsthand accounts and his own travels across Russia, recalling a time when dreams of glory pushed men to the limits of human endurance.
"Matthews's humor, eye for detail, and voluminous knowledge of the historical context make this book a penetrating and enjoyable account of the exploration age and Russian society, from the imperial court to the wild frontier garrisons." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Fascinating….This epic historical account illuminates the promise and failings of a lost empire through the ambition of a single man.” Booklist
“Matthews writes that 'Any historian who sets out to search for a hero will almost inevitably uncover something of the scoundrel,' and he's found a fascinating scoundrel in Rezanov, whose complex villainy and shrewdness is almost enough to overshadow the uniqueness of his mission.” Daily Beast
"Matthews opens a new window into the first settlements of America's Pacific coast, the men who led it and the reasons for its failure." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two centuries ago, shortly after the U.S. was formed, a Russian expedition set its sights on the Pacific Northwest. It could have changed history.
The Russian Empire once extended deep into America: in 1818 Russia's furthest outposts were in California and Hawaii. The dreamer behind this great Imperial vision was Nikolai Rezanov — diplomat, adventurer, courtier, millionaire and gambler. His quest to plant Russian colonies from Siberia to California led him to San Francisco, where he was captivated by Conchita, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Spanish Governor, who embodied his dreams of both love and empire. From the glittering court of Catherine the Great to the wilds of the New World, Matthews conjures a brilliantly original portrait of one of Russia's most eccentric Empire-builders.
About the Author
Owen Matthews was born in London and spent part of his childhood in America. He studied Modern History at Oxford University before beginning his career as a journalist in Bosnia. In 1995 he accepted a job at The Moscow Times, a daily English-language newspaper. He also freelanced for a number of publications including The Times, the Spectator and the Independent. In 1997, he became a correspondent at Newsweek magazine in Moscow where he covered the second Chechen war, as well as politics and society. Owen was also one of the first journalists to witness the start of the US bombing in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan, 2001, and went on to cover the invasion of Iraq, 2003. His first book on Russian history, Stalin's Children, was published to great critical acclaim in 2008. Owen is currently Newsweek magazine's bureau chief in Moscow, where he lives with his wife and two children.