Peter Stark "Astoria"

I saw this book on the shelf at the Edmonds Bookshop on my bi-monthly trip to the seaside town for tea. I’ve never been to Astoria proper, but when I was a kid, we swam at nearby Canon Beach, and anyway, I’ve always been a sucker for Pacific Northwest history. Stark’s book is more popular (as in, written for non-specialist audiences) than I usually read, and it took a few chapters to get used to the lack of references, and the repetitions, but once I did, I flew through it. It’s part adventure story, part-historical recovery, and a large part what-if? Had a few events gone only slightly differently, the whole west coast might have been a country called “Astoria,” which Thomas Jefferson imagined as a separate, sisterly democracy to the U.S. Had other minor adjustments been made, or natural disasters allayed, all of Western Canada might have been added onto America. It was all so tenuous, and Stark’s gripping (and often moving) story gives us Astor and Jefferson as men of far-sighted vision while also giving us a memorable cast of players: some heroes, some villains, (though no one firmly in either camp) and as a backdrop to the suffering they endured and enacted, this whole, huge, terrifying west.