After reading Glorious Misadventures, the best description I can come up with of Tsarist Russia c. 1800 is "government by an aristocracy consisting largely of Donald Trump clones". It's all here! The clash of massive egos. The self-interested pandering. The braggadocio. The grandiose dreams. The ill-concealed ruthlessness. And, especially, the obsessive pursuit of money, stature, money, and more money.
With material like this, it's not a surprise that Glorious Misadventures is a colorful tale. One of the back-cover blurbs compares it to a Flashman novel, which isn't a bad starting point--but Glorious Misadventures is more tragic than comic. It has no less than four major epicenters:
- The court of Catherine the Great and her successors.
- The Russian fur trade in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
- Nikolai Rezanov's excursion to Japan.
- His subsequent empire-building attempts in Oregon and California.
The Dream of a Russian America never had much of a chance. Contemporary America had its share of these guys, but they were outnumbered and outweighed by the comparatively sober bourgeoisie. The Enlightenment was in the air . . . but Nikolai Rezanov and his compatriots weren't breathing it. They were doomed. We should be thankful.