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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West Paperback – April 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“If you were impressed with Laura Hillenbrand’s efforts to breathe life into Seabiscuit—or wax romantic about Willa Cather’s classic My Antonia—this is a book for you.”—Grand Rapids Press

About the Author

Dorothy Wickenden has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439176590
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439176597
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (287 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 121 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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98 of 112 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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54 of 61 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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Elle on October 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The real-life story of these two women is fascinating - unfortunately, the book is a bit of a slog. It's bumpy reading that feels like Wickenden isn't comfortable in the voice or format she's chosen. I'm puzzled as to why she approaches this story as a dry historical account, instead of crafting an adventure novel about Dorothy and Ros: their courage, choices, trials, romances, etc. (ala Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel). All the elements of a great story are here - just buried under pages of historical context. Odd editorial choice.

Despite that, I pushed through the book because I was so deeply interested in Dorothy and Ros. I wanted to know about their lives after the year in Elkhead, too. But the `wrap up' in the book's final pages is equally unsatisfying.

I wanted to love this book. I'm glad I read it, but it really doesn't do service to the lives of these brave women. It's not a book I'll add to my library. This one gets passed along. Perhaps someone else will enjoy it more than I.
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