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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West Hardcover – June 21, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439176580
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439176580
  • ASIN: 1439176582
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (238 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"From the elite ethos of Smith College to the raw frontier of northwestern Colorado, two friends dared to defy the conventions of their time and station. Dorothy Wickenden tells their extraordinary story with grace and insight, transporting us back to an America suffused with a sense of adventure and of possibility. This is a wonderful book about two formidable women, the lives they led--and the legacy they left."—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion

“In Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden has beautifully captured a world in transition, a pivotal chapter not just in the life of her bold and spirited grandmother, but also in the life of the American west. Dorothy Woodruff and her friend Rosamond are like young women who walked out of a Henry James novel and headed west instead of east. Imagine Isabel Archer wrangling the ragged, half-wild children of homesteaders, whirling through dances with hopeful cowboys, and strapping on snowshoes in the middle of the night to urge a fallen horse onto an invisible trail in high snowdrifts, and you’ll have some idea of the intense charm and adventure of this remarkable book.”—Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

“A superb, stirring book. Through the eyes of two spirited and resourceful women from the civilized East, Wickenden makes the story of the American West engaging and personal. A delight to read.”--Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief

“The adventures of two well-bred Yankee ladies in the still wild West makes a remarkable, funny story. But evoked through Dorothy Wickenden's skillful use of letters, diaries, and memoirs, Nothing Daunted is also a slow parade through young America. Cowboys carefully-mannered before the ladies; the bare-legged, ragged children in their brand-new school; winter sleigh rides under the new moon—all these moments have been preserved, their colors fresh for modern wonderment: A haunting evocation of a vanished world.”—Caroline Alexander, author of The Bounty and The War that Killed Achilles

“Dorothy Wickenden was lucky to have such intriguing forebears...but the satisfying depth and vivacity of Nothing Daunted, the intimate, report-from the ground American saga the author has created with that correspondence as a foundation, have nothing to do with good fortune. Wickenden’s talents for research, observation, description, and narrative flow turn this unfaded snapshot of these early-20th-century women in the West into something even more resonant—a brightly painted mural of America under construction a century ago, personified by two ladies of true grit who were nothing daunted and everything enthusiastic about where the new century would take them.”Entertainment Weekly

“Wickenden has painstakingly recreated the story of how that earlier Dorothy and her friend Rosamond Underwood embarked on a brief but life-changing adventure, teaching the children of struggling homesteaders... Wickenden lets their tale of personal transformation open out to reveal the larger changes in the rough-and-tumble society of the West...Fascinating...scenes emerge with a lovely clarity”—Maria Russo, New York Times Book Review

“A superb biography... Wickenden summons up the last moments of frontier life, where books were a luxury and, when blizzards hit, homesteader’s children would ski miles to school on curved barrel staves... Nothing Daunted also reminds us that different strains of courage can be found, not just on the battlefield, but on the home front, too.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

“An enchanting family memoir…A brilliant gem of Americana.”Washington Post Book World

“Wickenden brings to life two women who otherwise might be lost to history and who took part in creating the modern-day West.”—Publishers Weekly

“A compelling story...”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Wickenden is a very good storyteller, and bracingly unsentimental. The sweep of the land and the stoicism of the people move her to some beautiful writing.”—Joan Acocella, Newsweek

"Wickenden uses personal history to illuminate the larger story of manifest destiny."--The New Yorker

"A great story, with a richly appealing character at the center...a tale of the triumph of determination over adversity...wonderfully American."--Slate

“Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood come alive in Nothing Daunted, Dorothy Wickenden’s fascinating slice of social history... Their story is blessed with a cast of supporting characters that novelists would envy.”—USA Today

“Wickenden is a lucky and talented writer... Both women spring to life in this wonderful book.”—Houston Chronicle

“Lovingly pieced together.”Los Angeles Times

“Scrupulously researched... Both an entertaining and an edifying read, bringing early 20th-century Colorado to vivid life.”--Bookpage

“Century-old letters composed in the wilds of Colorado by two young schoolteachers provide the backbone of this stirring narrative.”--Newsweek

“Dorothy Wickenden’s recounting of her grandmother Dorothy Woodruff’s treacherous cross-country journey is as charming as it is rugged... This is Little House on the Praire in petticoats, and it is enchanting.”—Rachel Syme, NPR.org

“Dorothy Wickenden has crafted an exquisite book.”Boston Globe

“A rich narrative... Nothing Daunted is an extraordinary book.”—Denver Post

“An intimate and joyful work that captures the best spirit of the 1910s—and today.”—Shelf Awareness

“Woodruff’s breezy letters could easily have stood on their own, but Wickenden chose to shape them into a narrative...Her instinct was right: Nothing Daunted is at once enjoyable and enlightening.”American Way

About the Author

Dorothy Wickenden has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996.  She also writes for the magazine and is the moderator of its weekly podcast “The Political Scene.” She is on the faculty of The Writers’ Institute at CUNY’s Graduate Center, where she teaches a course on narrative nonfiction. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995 and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband and her two daughters in Westchester, New York.

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Customer Reviews

I really enjoyed the book, thought it was well written and interesting,and would recommend it to everyone.
cindy talley
Everyone would enjoy this historical look at two eastern girls in the early 20th Century West, but those of us from Colorado will absolutely love it!
Carol Anthony
The author is a magazine writer so the book at times reads as if she is writing off her notes and letters as a research paper would be written.
Kathy1055

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on June 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, paints a picture of the lives of two Victorian women who break from tradition to pursue their youthful passions. The author's grandmother and her friend received the best education available to women at the time and still yearned for some real world experiences. Formal education at Smith College, and learning abroad both paled in comparison to the time Dorothy Woodruff spent out West as a "working girl."

Woodruff's granddaughter, Dorothy Wickenden, tells the story of these two individuals who were brought together for nine months in Elkland, Colorado. A portrait emerges of two worlds in 1916--the predictable, comfortable life in the upper-class society of the industrialized East Coast and the remote, hardscrabble life on the western frontier. The author breathes life into the stories of men and women on the frontier by researching and reconstructing Dorothy Woodruff's letters and memorabilia.

This book is a fascinating glimpse into the social milieu of the period, along with insight into the personal lives of two families of considerable social standing in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The story has it all: romance, intrigue, adventure, politics and family histories. At times the narrative reads like a mini-series on the history of upstate New York with accounts of notable suffragettes, abolitionists, and politicians. Auburn, NY has a proud history as a hub of political reformers and a hotbed for social justice. Wickenden characterizes the town as a world where "Sons and daughters inherited their elders' names and their fortunes." I felt as though I came to know Dorothy Wickenden's charming grandmother through her own words.
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96 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Lynne Spreen on June 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about two wealthy and vivacious young women who, feeling unchallenged by their upper-class prospects in the early 1900s (marry well, have children, support philanthropy - yawn) rebelled by applying for jobs as school teachers in a primitive Colorado frontier town.

As a historical work, Nothing Daunted was comprehensive but not always compelling. For example, I thought the descriptions of some of the peripheral characters were too detailed. As a memoir, the main characters were a bit one-dimensional, they went here and there, seeing and doing this and that, but without any sense of their emotional reactions.

That last point is what I found most daunting about this book. I didn't connect emotionally with any of the main characters, although the schoolchildren, esp. Tommy Jones' crying about having received no sweater, were more compelling. I wondered if the girls ever got depressed about their circumstances (waking up in the morning wearing a light dusting of snow)? Did they feel sad about leaving their students after that wonderful year? Were they ever moved by the contrast between their students' poverty as compared to their own affluence?

It must be difficult to insert imagined emotion into the characters of historical figures, but since the author imagined other unknowable aspects, I believe it wouldn't have undermined the integrity of the work to have interjected this for the sake of the story. However, if the main mission of the book was to describe the landscape of the era, it succeeded very well.
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Lisa on June 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book! It was so amazing and inspiring to read not only about Rosamund and Dorothy but all the different people trying to make a life of it in Colorado. They really were working hard and making the best of what they had. Of course, the two women at the middle of this book were really fantastic. They approached everything before them with an open mind and good attitudes. Coming from very wealthy backgrounds, you don't see any indication that they think they are better than the settlers in Colorado. Ros and Dotty were determined to make the most of their experiences, and this shaped their entire lives.

There was a lot of history given not only about our heroines, but also Colorado and the railroad there. Some of this was a bit dry to read. However, once the story in Colorado began in earnest, I was thoroughly engaged. I did not want to put the book down. I even found myself cheering for one potential suitor over another. You can clearly feel the personalities of the people coming through. Their stories have some interesting twists and turns, and I was so surprised by some things that happened. More than anything though, I felt like these were two women I could have been friends with. They lived their lives on their terms, and they were able to have some amazing adventures in the process. I think we could all stand to learn to take all the opportunities in our live with equal excitement. This was a great book, and I hope many people will take a chance to read it.

Galley provided by publisher for review.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This was a labor of love on the part of the author. Her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, was one of the two intrepid high society East Coast young ladies who set off for Colorado in 1916 to spend a year teaching in a rural school. A lot of research went into the preparation of this book, and there are certainly some interesting bits of history sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, it's just one big bundle of digressions, which made it a torture for me to get through. I did finish it, but I cannot recommend it with enthusiasm.

I won't write a long review dwelling on the book's flaws, but the constant digressions are the most frustrating thing about it. Every time you think the story's going to pick up steam and start living up to the title, it veers off onto some new historical path. For example, when Dorothy and Ros are riding the train from Denver up into the mountains, Wickenden takes off on a long boring narrative about the building of the Moffat Tunnel and the railroad they're riding on.

I really did like Dorothy and Ros, and I admired their adventuresome spirit and willingness to roll with the punches when they encountered situations so different from their sheltered, affluent upbringing. I think their experiences deserve a more focused and colorful presentation than is given in this book.
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