Summary and book reviews of Glorious Misadventures by Owen Matthews

Glorious Misadventures

Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America

by Owen Matthews

Glorious Misadventures
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2013, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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.

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.

Introduction

I shall never see you –
I shall never forget you.
Andrei Voznesensky, Junona i Avos

Those of depraved minds go nowadays to America solely with the aim of growing rich and then upon their return journey fritter it away in a few days, scattering like dust the riches obtained by many years of other peoples' tears. Can such desperate people respect their fellow beings? The poor [native] Americans are, to Russia's shame, sacrificed to their debauchery. Nikolai Rezanov, quoted by Hieromonk Gideon>

I first heard of Nikolai Rezanov in the summer of 1986. I was fifteen years old and visiting my mother's sister Lenina in her cluttered apartment on Frunzenskaya Embankment in Moscow. I had no inkling that I was living through the old Soviet Union's last summer, the final months of calm before the winds of change that were to scatter the old order began to blow. Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power the previous year, and was just about...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While Glorious Misadventures isn't a fast read, it is entertaining and informative, and I can certainly recommend it to those looking for an in-depth book at late 18th century/early 19th century Russian history and exploration.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Fascinating… This epic historical account illuminates the promise and failings of a lost empire through the ambition of a single man.

Kirkus Reviews

In the early 1800s, the Russians came very close to colonizing North America. Newsweek contributing editor Matthews (Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival, 2008) introduces us to the visionary men who attempted to build a Russian Empire.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Author Blurb Simon Sebag Montefiore, bestselling author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Czar
A thrilling story of swashbuckling adventure and flamboyant derring-do about a neglected but intriguing episode of Russian-American history...the shambolic, often-forgotten and short-lived Russian empire in America, combining fresh research with a compelling narrative.

Author Blurb Orlando Figes, bestselling author of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia and The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Richly rewarding and hugely enjoyable, Glorious Misadventures is a flamboyant history of sea-faring adventures, imperial encounters, missed opportunities and lost loves which takes the reader back to that long forgotten age when the Russians and the Spanish were the masters of the wilderness between Alaska and California.

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Beyond the Book

The Aleutian Islands: First Settlers

The Aleutian Islands As Glorious Misadventures shows, the vast amount of money to be made in the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska drew many adventurers and speculators, including the primary subject of the book, Nikolai Rezanov. The Aleut Region is a string of over 70 volcanic islands stretching more than 1,000 miles across the very northern part of the Pacific Ocean and forming an arc between Alaska on the east and Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula on the West (The National Parks Service has a large, clickable map). With the exception of the Commander Islands on the far western end of the chain, the territory is considered part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It was discovered by Europeans in 1741, when a Russian expedition led by Vitus Bering stumbled across ...

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