Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America's First Imperial Adventure Hardcover – Jan 3 2012
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A "San Francisco Chronicle" Bestseller A sweeping tale of tragedy, greed, betrayal, and imperialism The depth of her research shines through the narrative, and the lush prose and quick pace make for engaging reading absorbing. "Library Journal" (Starred review) Richlysourced [Siler is] able to color in many figures who had heretofore existed largely in outline or black and white a solidly researched account of an important chapter in our national history, one that most Americans don t know but should an 1893 New York Times headline called [the annexation] the political crime of the century. "The New York Times Book Review" Julia Flynn Siler's "Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure" is a well-told history of the U.S. acquisition of Hawaii. The central figure is Lili'uokalani, who had the misfortune of being queen when Uncle Sam closed his grasp on the islands. "The Seattle Times" [A] well-researched, nicely contextualized history . . . It was indeed, as Siler characterizes it, one of the most audacious land grabs of the Gilded Age. "LA Times" [Julia Flynn] Siler captures what Hawaii was then and what it has evolved into today. What happened to the islands is known as one of the most aggressive takeovers of the Gilded Age Siler gives us a riveting and intimate look at the rise and tragic fall of Hawaii's royal family [It] is a reminder that Hawaii remains one of the most breathtaking places in the world. Even if the kingdom is lost. Fortune Siler rehearses the dark imperial history of how Americans first arrived in the islands, how they rose in power and how they deposed the queen and took everything This is mostly the story of white entrepreneurs and missionaries who came and conquered A well-rendered narrative of paradise and imperialism. "Kirkus Review" This imperial land grab in our not so distant past is far too little known. I hope that Julia Flynn Siler s lively, moving, colorful account will help restore it to the place in our national memory where it ought to be. Adam Hochschild, author of "To End all Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918" and "Kings Leopold s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa" Only one American state was formally a sovereign monarchy. In this compelling narrative, the award-winning journalist Julia Flynn Siler chronicles how this Pacific kingdom, creation of a proud Polynesian people, was encountered, annexed, and absorbed. Kevin Starr, Historian, University of Southern California, and author of "California: A History" Siler skillfully weaves the tangled threads of this story into a satisfying tapestry about the late 19th-century death of a small nation [with] sympathetic detail. "Publisher s Weekly" The takeover of Hawaii is a disturbing and dramatic story, deftly captured by Julia Flynn Siler [S]he vividly depicts a cast of characters driven by greed, desperation, and miscalculation How the queen lost her kingdom says as much about America and its new era of overseas expansion as it does about Hawaii. T.J. Stiles, author of "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelious Vanderbilt," winner of the Pulitzer Price and National Book Award Julia Flynn Siler s Lost Hawaii is a riveting saga about Big Sugar flexing its imperialist muscle Its impossible not to be impressed with the breadth of Silers fine scholarship. A real gem of a book. Douglas Brinkley, author of "The Quiet World: Saving Alaskas Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960" Too many Americans forget our 'island paradise' was acquired via a cynical, imperious land grab By the 1890s, American businessmen, especially the sugar kings, dominated the Hawaiian economy [C]ombined with the flowering of American naval ambitions, Hawaii s status as an independent kingdom was doomed. Siler s narrative concentrates on the efforts of Queen Lili okalani to stave off American annexation. The missionary-educated [queen s] efforts to straddle both the modern and traditional Hawaiian worlds proved futile. This is a well-written, fast-moving saga. "Booklist""
About the Author
Julia Flynn Siler is an award-winning journalist. Her book, 'The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty', was a 'New York Times' best seller. She has written for 'Business Week' and the 'New York Times', and is now a contributing writer for the 'Wall Street Journal' in San Francisco. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
Siler lays the groundwork by reporting the background of how the kingdom united by Kamehameha I gradually became the multi-cultural society that it is today. From the 1820s on, Hawaii attracted Christian missionaries from the United States and political overtures from western powers, particularly Britain, France, Germany and the United States, who were then establishing their empires. This book explains the interests of each power in the islands and how the succession of Hawaiian monarchs responded to the advances of each. The identification of Hawaiian royalty with the British Royal Family makes for interesting reading. The reader comes to realize that history could have turned out differently with Hawaii becoming attached to a European nation or even the leader of a Polynesian Empire.
The central character of the drama is Lili'uokalani, the last Queen of Hawaii. Referred to throughout the book as Lili'u, the name used by her friends, she emerges as a figure who tried mightily to defend the interests of the crown and her people, the natives of Hawaii. Growing up as an ali'I, of the ruling class, but not an obvious heir to the throne, Lili'u came closer to power as the Kamehameha line declined and died out. The reader will notice the short life-spans and reigns of her predecessors.
Like many stories of nations stolen and natives dispossessed, the story of Hawaii is a complex one.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
More important, this book fails the most critical duty of a history book, which is to place events in context. It fails to do this in two, opposite, ways. First, because the book jumps into the middle of history, it does not explain Hawaiian tradition before white contact. In perhaps an effort to bring that tradition into the narrative, the author makes it sound like the modern Hawaiian kings and queens descended from barbarians and continued to be "uncivilized." One paragraph (31) begins by describing the wood-framed home of King Kamehameha IV and his wife, Emma, and ends noting that they wore the latest fashions from London. But squeezed between those thoughts the author notes, "In earlier decades, the royal family's informal manner of dress and deportment--often barefoot, with the king wearing a traditional malo, or loincloth, and the queen wearing only a tapa, a bark cloth skirt--startled some Western visitors." The way this sentence is placed seems to imply that Kamehameha IV and Emma were wearing malo and tapa. There is no evidence they ever had worn traditional garb, and in fact, it had been over 60 years since any king had worn a malo, at least in front of Western visitors.
There are other examples of referring back to Hawaiian's distant past that constantly reinforce the fiction that these people were primitive. In commenting on an oft-quoted newspaper report that Lili`u danced the waltz as if she was in love with her every partner, the author speculates, "Perhaps she had simply harnessed the sensuality that hula dancers knew." Did hula dancers know sensuality? That is not in the book, but seems rather to be a Western fantasy. Even if it is true, had Lili'u ever seen a sensual hula performed? Everything in the book up to this point is about her upright Christian upbringing.
On the opposite end, context is almost completely ignored when talking about the role of the United States in the overthrow. Alexander Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, whose imperial visions drove American interest in Hawai`i, are mentioned on two pages, rather than being made the central figures they were. The Spanish-American War is similarly virtually ignored. Never mentioned is the fact that within a 6 month period, the U.S. had invaded Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and annexed Hawai`i.
The author gives two sentences to the petitions against annexation sent by tens of thousands of Hawaiians. She makes no mention that as a result of this and other opposition, the treaty of annexation was defeated on February 27, 1898, when only 46 senators voted in favor. She states (284), "a joint resolution on annexation passed Congress with a simple majority," without noting that annexation, under the U. S. Constitution, cannot take place by resolution. It was a procedural move by Republicans who could not get the two-thirds majority they needed for a treaty.
The worst failing of this book is that it makes the fascinating history of Hawai`i a dry, boring read. If you want to read an accurate, entertaining introduction to this particular part of Hawaiian history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes. If you want to go deeper, Tom Coffman's book Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaii is excellent, as well as Noenoe Silva's Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (a John Hope Franklin Center Book). There is not, to date, a really good book on the overall history of Hawai`i. Another reviewer recommended Michener's Hawaii as a better history. Newsflash: it's a novel.
Ms. Siler centers her narrative around the remarkable family and person of Lili'uokalani, who was born in 1820 and served as Hawaii's last reigning queen. Without overtly romanticizing the native people, Ms. Siler does suggest that the Hawaiians were wholly unprepared for the complexities of western culture. On the one hand, Lili'u's own writings confirm that she whole-heartedly embraced the message of love taught to her in the Christian Missionary schools in which she was raised. On the other hand, Ms. Siler documents how the monarchs who served over the course of Lili'u's lifetime became progressively less effective as they became compromised by western business interests who ceaselessly worked behind the scenes to slowly erode their powers. Ultimately, the humiliating Bayonet Constitution institutionalized a government that was effectively controlled by the sugar barons, leaving Lili'u's brother Kalakaua as a mere figurehead. For her part, Lili'u assumed the throne in 1891 and conspired in a failed counterrevolution in 1895 which led to her imprisonment. In the aftermath of this unrest, the U.S. decided to settle matters permanently by annexing Hawaii in 1898, crushing Lili'u's hopes for justice for herself and her people.
Apart from recounting the facts (which she does extraordinarily well), Ms. Siler has a novelists' flair for rendering the colorful personalities of the people and places from the past. Ms. Siler's vivid descriptions easily stoke the imaginations of anyone who has ever visited Hawaii (or perhaps merely seen the islands in the movies or television) while enhancing our knowledge and appreciation of Hawaiian culture and history. For example, learning that Lili'u had transcribed 'Aloha Oe' while under house arrest as part of a last defiant act to preserve her people's culture for posterity has forever changed my perception of this classic tune: although Lili'u lost her kingdom, her spirit lives on through music.
I highly recommend this dramatic, insightful and important book to everyone.
Siler doesn't tell a standard biographical account of Queen Liliu's life. The story is really told through the story of the rise and fall of the Hawaiian monarchy. Most of the story spans the Queen's lifetime but her story is interspersed with many others. Siler for Hawaiian novices like myself describes many Hawaiian traditions and cultural norms.
If you're looking for a book that will tell a concise story of how the Hawaiian monarchy was started, developed and was ended because of the value of the sugar trade, then this book will teach you a lot. Julia Siler obviously did a ton of research and presents a very readable account of Hawaii in the nineteenth century. Siler tells wonderful stories of the Thurston's, Doles, and the many Hawaiian monarchs who we may have forgotten if it wasn't for historical research. I bet even someone who knows Hawaii well will probably learn something new.
One of the attractions of the book is that the tale is very different from, certainly, what I expected and, probably, for most general readers. It's centered on the kings and queens of Hawaii who were caught up in the drift of historical forces and their interactions with the power players in the game about who would have real authority. These royals were not the stereotypical war paint, girth and feathers of so many images. Hawaii was a sophisticated society, with well-educated and cosmopolitan leaders. The palace had electricity years before the White House. The elite travelled widely, and was urbane and educated. They met with U.S. Presidents and Lili'u, the last queen, made a grand tour of Europe where she was a guest of Queen Victoria, who clearly was impressed by her. There was a strong English- and Hawaiian-language press and a general tradition of pride and decorum. In terms of talent and stature the royalty compared well with the collection of British and French mediocrities with crowns.
The book makes them very real, perhaps more so than it brings out the broader scene-setting. A weakness of its anchoring the narrative and analysis on the court and the constitutional fights that reduced the royals to figureheads is that we are not given as rich a picture of what was going on in the streets rather than the palace and parliament. There's coverage of rebellions, forced abdications, mutinies and gangs but these are very much in the background. There were racial issues, ranging from the vicious mocking of Hawaiians as comic savages especially in the California press, a platform for many powerful players with an axe to grind, manifest destiny to trumpet and money to be made from the riches of trade, to the decline of the native population through disease and exploitation and the influx of essentially indentured Chinese and Japanese workers. While these are addressed, the book is far more personal than social in its scope. That is not a flaw just a limiting of scope; it narrows down the historical breadth to add depth of biography. I have a slight sense of the story being incomplete and would not rate this as a major scholarly contribution to historical research. But it is very good indeed within its chosen limits. There's a generosity of spirit and evocation of people and space that is weighty and convincing.
It has some weaknesses, especially the surfeit of detail about minor incidents and everyday life. It is meticulous in research and full of minutiae - a horse ride began at 6.30 am, the king signed four promissory notes for $10,000 each at 2, 3, 4 and 5 years with interest at 7%, the Provisional Government collected $95,000 in two hours, and so on. The style is precise and clear and the story levelly-paced, and the overall quality of the work is impressive.
I am in two minds not about the book but how strongly to recommend it for readers who may have other preferences and interests than mine in historical biography. It did not quite grab me and it comes across as a little detached. I don't have any doubts, though, that this is a four-star quality work. You might push it up to five stars for the story and as a bio or down nearer to three as history. Similarly, you may nudge it up for its attractive and lucid style and clarity or down for its slowness and detail. For me, it's not quite five stars; it's a book to enjoy rather than enthuse over. There's one factor that makes me come down on the side of a strong recommendation: the well-told story. It's important and resonant historically and will I think change your entire perspective on Hawaii.
As sad as the story is, Siler's treatment of it is even-handed, interesting, and fun to read. I kept going back to it to find out what happens next - for even though I knew the end of the story, I was genuinely suprised at how exactly it all played out. The settings are exotic, the main characters richly drawn - especially Lili'u, the deposed and last Queen of Hawaii. She is a complex and sympathetic woman - dignified, musically talented, passionately patriotic, a strong but conflicted leader. As the proper focus of the tragedy she also, however, has her tragic flaws, which contribute to the downfall of Hawaii. I found her truly compelling, her story so moving.
I wish I'd read this book before going to Hawaii. I'd have better understood modern Hawaii if I'd understood this moment in it's history. I'd have understood my own country's shameful role, and seen why the Native Hawaiian movement is so strong. And I'd have visited many of the places in the book, especially the statue of Lili'u and the room where she was imprisoned, quietly sewing her quilt of resistance.
Even without a trip to Hawaii, this book needs to be read. What an unforgettable story!!!!