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Distributed for University of Alaska Press

Seward’s Folly

A New Look at the Alaska Purchase

The Alaska Purchase—denounced at the time as “Seward’s Folly” but now seen as a masterstroke—is well known in American history. But few know the rest of the story.
            This book aims to correct that. Lee Farrow offers here a detailed account of just what the Alaska Purchase was, how it came about, its impact at the time, and more. Farrow shows why both America and Russia had plenty of good reasons to want the sale to occur, including Russia’s desire to let go of an unprofitable, hard-to-manage colony and the belief in the United States that securing Alaska could help the nation gain control of British Columbia and generate closer trade ties with Asia . Farrow also delves into the implications of the deal for foreign policy and international diplomacy far beyond Russia and the United States at a moment when the global balance of power was in question.
            A thorough, readable retelling of a story we only think we know, Seward’s Folly will become the standard book on the Alaska Purchase.

220 pages | 6 halftones, 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2016  

History: General History

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“A welcome addition to the growing literature on the history of Alaska, this work has a purpose, ably fulfilled, to examine circumstances that led US Secretary of State William Seward to acquire Alaska secretly for the US in 1867.”


““There's a popular conception about the purchase of Alaska, which occurred 150 years ago this year. Russia had a toehold on its American colony but the company in charge of the possession wasn't turning a profit. So it was offered for sale to then-Secretary of State William Seward at a bargain price. Seward bought it and hilarity ensued. Americans mocked the purchase as little more than a frozen wasteland and derided Seward. Little more came of it until the Gold Rush three decades later. . . . Farrow places the purchase in its full context relative to both international geopolitics and the domestic situation in the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. It makes for an enlightening read.”

Alaska Dispatch News

“(Lee) sets the purchase into several contexts, with chapters surveying briefly the history of Russian America, Stoeckl and Seward’s relationship, public reaction to the purchase, appropriation of the money, conditions in Alaska after the purchase, international perceptions of the affair, and items that have put Alaska in the national news in recent years. . . . Farrow renders a significant service to general readers in dispensing with the long cherished canard that the purchase was unpopular.”

Alaska History

“Tells the narrative story of the 1867 sale of Russian America to the U.S. clearly. If I had to assign college students one account of that momentous deal, I would select this monograph.”

American Historical Review

Table of Contents

Chapter I
Some Mysterious Sympathy: The Foundations of the Russian-American Friendship
Chapter II
Evident Advantages: Origins and Objectives
Chapter III
Seward’s Chimerical Project: Public Reaction and the Ratification
Chapter IV
No Longer Russian America: Taking Possession of Alaska
Chapter V
Paying for the “New National Ice-House.” Approval and Appropriation
Chapter VI
Very Uneasy and Vexed: International Reactions to the Purchase
Chapter VII
That Snowbound Wilderness: From Treaty to Territory

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