I know a person who, when a child, got the notion that when his baby brother was weaned, he was taken up on a grassy hill and tossed about. He had a vivid idea of having seen this curious ceremony.

—James Sully

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PLEASE NOTE THAT I WILL BE LARGELY OFFLINE FROM JULY 1 TO SEPTEMBER 30, 2013. I apologize for delays in responding to emails.

In 1867, Czar Alexander II of Russia sold off 586,412 square miles of his country to the United States for the fire-sale price of 1.9 cents per acre, or a total of $7.2 million – about $109 million in today’s money. Convinced that he had disposed of a glorified ice cube, the czar thought he had gotten the better end of the bargain, and many in the U.S. agreed. The journalist Horace Greeley disparaged the deal as an “inconvenient” purchase that offered the buyer “nothing of value but furbearing animals.” Today that inconvenient purchase, better known as Alaska, is worth an estimated $100 billion in oil and gold. In 2008, Forbes magazine described Alexander’s decision to sell Alaska as one of the ten worst business mistakes of the last 400 years.