“Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire”, by Peter Stark - Book Review

What happened after Lewis and Clark headed west? It was years before the Pacific Northwest became part of America. The region was sought after by the Brits, Canadians, and enterprising Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and John Jacob Astor. Jefferson had his sights on colonizing it, thus securing the far borders of the still-fledgling country in 1810. Astor was determined to expand his international trade and create a critical outpost for his enterprise.

Author and journalist Peter Stark delivers this fascinating true adventure to us in Astoria, a journey put into motion by Jefferson and Astor. It’s the story of ambition, ego, bravery, madness, and humanity; of humans pushed to their limits both physically and emotionally, and of their survival.

Beginning with fur trading, Astor’s humble yet ambitious initiation into international trade began with New York, Canada, and Europe. With Jefferson’s political backing, Astor funds an endeavor to settle along the Columbia River leading to the Pacific Ocean to promote trade with Russia and China, ultimately creating an international route, exporting goods around the world. Astor embarks on two campaigns to reach the Northwest from New York - an overland expedition to closely follow the path of Lewis and Clark, and another by sea on the Tonquin, which rounded Cape Horn. These advance parties were to establish a settlement and pave the way for others to follow.

Over the course of three years, this incredible journey is filled with violence and hardships. The overland party encounters hostile indian tribes, harsh terrain and weather, and frequent sidetracks. The expedition by sea barely survives storms, attacks, and a tyrannical captain. Stark delves into the personalities of key players within each expedition, as well as the race to the Columbia River not only by the American expeditions, but by competing traders in Canada, and a hostile British fleet.

Astoria is an amazing view into our history and man’s determination to conquer and succeed. Stark is adept in conveying this tale, making it both fully engrossing and in building the reader’s anticipation, even though we already know the ultimate outcome. Not only is it a thrilling tale, it’s a great read.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Collins

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars 

SciFi for the Rest of Us: "The Martian”, by Andy Weir - Book Review

The Martian is my first audio book review. I used to think this was cheating, but then I started a long daily commute that drove me to the edge of insanity. A friend recommended audio books as a way to not only cope, but expand my literary repertoire. Another friend recommended The Martian. As it turns out, I’m hooked.

My hesitation in starting audio books is that it isn’t reading. Am I using my brain the same way? Am I using the same number of cells and keeping my cognitive functions as engaged as when sitting down with an actual book in my hand? Ah, who cares. I was completely engaged. I started walking around my house with my headphones in while folding laundry. I had to hear more. And my commute? Much more tolerable. In fact…well, don’t tell my boss.

Andy Weir is a self-proclaimed “space nerd” and worked as a programmer and software engineer since age 15. His debut novel embraces his nerdy tendencies.  This guy loves space. And the book (audio) was really good. I do have a confession though. There is a lot of time with our hero spent alone on Mars. He recites calculations and measurements about chemistry, physics, and agriculture ad nauseam. I fast forwarded. Yep, I did. And I’m not sorry. Still got the gist and don’t feel I missed a thing.

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