Books: The Great Misadventure

RUSSIAN AMERICA by Hecfor Chevigny. 274 pages. Viking. $5.95.

A century ago, Russia and the U.S. were next-door neighbors. Fort Ross, the southernmost outpost of Russia's vast American colony, lay only 100 miles up the California coast from San Francisco. American ships regularly anchored at New Archangel (now Sitka), a thriving capital that boasted two scientific institutes, a public library, a college, and such civilized amusements as the theater, whist parties and formal balls. Then in 1867, Russia ceded its American possession to the U.S. for $7,200,000—a price that comes to about $12 per square mile. It was the crowning irony of...

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