Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure

Julia Flynn Siler. Atlantic Monthly, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2001-4
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Behind the modern bustle of the nation’s only island state lies this sad, sobering tale of decline, betrayal, and imperialism. It centers on the admirable last monarch of the Hawaiians, Queen Lilu’okalani, who struggled against palace intrigue, American sugar barons, and eventually cynical American military diplomacy before losing her throne in 1893, a few years before the U.S. simply annexed the Hawaiian islands as American territory. Wall Street Journal contributing writer Siler (The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty) skillfully weaves the tangled threads of this story into a satisfying tapestry about the late 19th-century death of a small nation at the hands of United States imperialists and businessmen like Claus Spreckels, a German immigrant grocer turned sugar refiner, who by 1876 had bought up half of Hawaii’s anticipated sugar crop. The leading character, the queen, comes off as more done to than doing, yet Siler convinces you that the well-meaning, staunch Lilu’okalani had few options when confronted with superior power. Siler’s history would have benefited from an interpretive thread, but it makes up in sympathetic detail what it lacks in stimulating ideas. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/10/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
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