Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America

Written by Eric Jay Dolin
Review by John R. Vallely

Eric Jay Dolin offers an exciting saga of ambition, passion, violence, and greed concerning the role that the fur from the sea otter, bison, and beaver played in the history of America. Much of this story remains relatively unknown to even the better of the most qualified historians, as economic history in general is chronically missing in writings in historical accounts of nation’s founding periods. The disappearance of European fur-bearing animals at the time of the settling of America provided entrepreneurs with multiple opportunities for enrichment. Dolin follows French, Russian, American, Spanish, English, and Swedish businessmen as they compete for the riches furs provide. John Jacob Astor and his American Fur Company are the most recognizable for most readers, but even the least well known provide breathtaking examples of the ruthless behavior essential in the reach for wealth and power.