Historian Eric Jay Dolin has just written one of the most comprehensive histories of the rise and fall of the American fur trade. To read Fur, Fortune, and Empire is to understand how North America was explored and settled, as its native peoples were both enriched and exploited by the trade. Buffalo, beaver, and sea otters were slaughtered, and their precious pelts were tailored into hats, coats, and sleigh blankets.
Dolin is a natural-born storyteller, and he makes a convincing case for the seminal role the fur trade had in the shaping of our continent.
Eric Jay Dolin’s previous book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, was chosen by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe as one of the best books of the year.
Historian Douglas Brinkley had an excellent comment about Dolin’s latest book: “Nobody writes about the link between American history and natural history with the scholarly grace of Eric Jay Dolin. Fur, Fortune, and Empire is a landmark study filled with a cast of eccentric western-type characters. Not since the days of Francis Parkman has a historian analyzed the fur-trade industry with such brilliance.”
The literature of mountain men and the fur trade is voluminous. Here’s just a few classic titles from the Land Library’s shelves:
Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West by Dale L. Morgan, Rocky Mountain Rendezvous: A History of the Fur Trade 1825-1840 by Fred R. Gowans, Osborne Russell’s Journal of a Trapper (a book that has been highly praised over the years by contemporary nature writer Edward Hoagland), Mountain Men and Fur Traders: Eighteen Biographical Sketches by LeRoy R. Hafen
And no study of the fur trade can be complete without a full knowledge and appreciation of the animals most impacted by this industry. The Land Library heartily recommends the following natural history studies:
The Time of the Buffalo by Tom McHugh, Otters: Ecology, Behavior, and Conservation by Hans Kruuk (including the nature & ecology of sea otters), The Beaver: Natural History of a Wetlands Engineer by Dietland Muller-Schwarze & Lixing Sun
For much more on the history of the fur trade in the West, be sure to visit the Museum of the Fur Trade‘s website, or if you’re ever in Chadron, Nebraska, plan a visit!