Author Owen Matthews discusses his book 'Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America’ about Nikolai Rezanov - diplomat, adventurer, courtier, millionaire and gambler - whose empire-building adventures extended deep into America.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century two great European empires met on the far side of the world. Conquistadors from Russia and Spain had been moving towards each other across the wildernesses of Siberia and the New World for centuries: now one Russian aristocrat and adventurer eyed greedily the last great unclaimed imperial prize on earth, America’s Pacific Coast.
Nikolai Rezanov – diplomat, courtier, millionaire and gambler – was an imperial dreamer who set out to transform the precarious fur-hunting stations of the Alaskan coast into the hub of a Russian colony stretching from Siberia to California. His quest led him to Spanish San Franscisco, where he became captivated by Conchita, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Spanish Governor, a ‘dark-eyed angel’ who embodied his dreams of both love and empire. More remarkable still, Rezanov’s ambitious plan very nearly succeeded – by 1818 the easternmost settlements of the tsar’s dominions were in Sonoma County, California, and on the islands of Hawaii.
Glorious Misadventures traces Rezanov’s dream of a Russian-American Empire from the intrigues of the glittering court of Catherine the Great to the wilds of the New World. Matthews uses first-hand accounts, archives and his own extensive travels in Rezanov’s footsteps to create a brilliantly original history of one of Russia’s most eccentric empire-builders, both a visionary and a failure, a hero and a scoundrel.
Owen Matthews read modern history at Oxford before becoming a journalist. He covered the conflicts in Bosnia, Lebanon, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq, and was Moscow Bureau Chief for Newsweek magazine.
His first book, Stalin’s Children , was published to critical acclaim in 2008, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Orwell Prize for political writing. It has been translated into twenty-eight languages and was the subject of his last address to the GB-Russia Society.
Owen’s latest book on Rezanov will be on sale for purchase and signing on the evening of his talk.
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