Fur, fortune, and empire The epic history of the fur trade in America

Eric Jay Dolin

Book - 2010

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New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Co c2010.
1st ed
Physical Description
xvii, 442 p., [32] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps (some col.), ports. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Eric Jay Dolin (-)
  • Furs settle the New World : "As fine a river as can be found"
  • The precious beaver
  • New Amsterdam rising
  • "The Bible and the beaver"
  • Clash of empires : Competition, conflict, and chicanery
  • "Many hounds are the hare's death"
  • Adieu to the French
  • Americans oust the British
  • America heads West : "A perfect golden round of profits"
  • Up the Missouri
  • Astoria
  • Mountain men
  • Taos trappers and Astor's empire
  • Fall of the beaver
  • The last robe
  • Epilogue: end of an era.
Review by Booklist Reviews

A hirsute history of American westward expansion, Dolin's capacious narrative of hunting and marketing furs partakes of the subject's vivid adventure and tragedy. Replete with mountain men, middlemen, and Indian tribes, the author's chronology extends from the Pilgrims' economic salvation on the back of the beaver to the near extermination of the bison in the late 1800s. As Dolin's introduction suggests, movielike characters populate frontier history and make its fur-hunting aspect a popular dramatic subject. But strictly dealing with the historical, Dolin synthesizes its abounding bibliography into an engaging and perceptive survey that accents men who plunged into the woods with rifle, trap, and wampum. Their relations with Indian tribes are central here, as exchanges of pelts for guns, alcohol, and more became the cultural interface between the indigenous peoples and the Dutch, English, French, and Americans. Including many incidents of amicable and hostile encounters, Dolin underlines the economic drivers that propelled the trade from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A hearty style of history, Dolin's work is a great gateway into American history. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Dolin received a Los Angeles Times award for his Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (CH, Dec'07, 45-221), but not for Fur, Fortune, and Empire. In this book, his approach is to stress the fur trade as an epic industry peopled by heroic characters like Jedediah Smith and John Jacob Astor. His thesis is that the fur trade laid the foundations of America and was pivotal in the wars for empire fought by England and France. The result is some curious emphases and omissions. Dolin devotes almost a third of the book to squabbling among the Pilgrims and Puritans, while almost neglecting the entire Great Lakes trade. Indians are mostly absent, but Russians receive quite a bit of attention. Dolin does maintain the old school insistence that Indians were dependent on European goods because they forgot their own skills and that alcohol was a means to cheat Indians. The author attempts too much to succeed. Summing Up: Not recommended. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The author of the surprise best seller Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America returns with a study of the fur trade in North America, starting in the 1600s, and showing how deeply it has shaped our history. One of my nonfiction favorites. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Dolin (Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America) here presents an inclusive overview of the American fur trade from Colonial times until the beginnings of the conservation movement of the late 19th century. Beaver, sea otter, and buffalo provided major economic motivation for extensive exploration and colonization of the East and West Coasts and interior waterways, plains, and mountains. Unlike most fur trade histories that focus on limited times or particular places, Dolan's narrative shows how the economic importance of furs and hides played a large role in determining Euro-American relations with American Indians and in shaping the course of empire for three centuries over what is now the United States and Canada. Celebrated participants covered here include Miles Standish, Peter Stuyvesant, John Jacob Astor, and Kit Carson, to mention a few. VERDICT From the Iroquoian "Beaver Wars" of the mid-1600s to the brutal Russian domination of Alaskan native hunters, Dolin successfully shows how America's natural history is a vital part of our collective national history. Highly recommended for readers and researchers of American history and natural resources.—Nathan E. Bender, Laramie, WY [Page 82]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Who'd think you could write a history of the U.S. centered on three centuries of the trade in furs? Dolin has done so in this spirited tale, although you won't find presidents, treaties, and wars. Instead, the main characters are the Indians, Dutch, French, British, Russians, and Americans who sought wealth and a living in the pelts of fur-bearing animals--beavers especially, but also sea otters, fur seals, and buffalo. Beneath this absorbing story lies the relentless drive (a "lethal wave" in Dolin's words) across the continent. In Dolin's telling, westward expansion wasn't fueled by "manifest destiny" or the thirst for empire but by the chase after animals. People as varied as Peter Stuyvesant, John Jacob Astor, Kit Carson, and the roughhewn "mountain men" play their parts over lands as dispersed as New England and Oregon. By the time animals are driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century, the U.S. is filled in. Neither would have happened without the other. Dolin, author of the acclaimed Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, offers another good history well told. 16 pages of color and 16 pages of b&w illus.; map. (July) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Traces the rise and fall of the American fur industry, beginning with Dutch traders in the early 1600s through the conservation movement in the late 19th century and explains how the animal skin trade damaged the lives of Native Americans.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Traces the rise and fall of the American fur industry, beginning with Dutch traders in the early 1600s through the conservation movement in the late nineteenth century and explains how the animal skin trade damaged the lives of Native Americans.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A Seattle Times selection for one of Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010Winner of the New England Historial Association's 2010 James P. Hanlan AwardWinner 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." —Los Angeles TimesFrom the best-selling author of Leviathan comes this sweeping narrative of one of America's most historically rich industries.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

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