Renowned historian Stephen Ambrose vividly brings to life Lewis and Clarks famous westward expedition (1803-1806) through the fictionalized diary of George Shannon--the youngest member of the famous explorers team. This Vast Land is filled with colorful examples of life on the trail, (baiting grizzly bears for sport, chasing after stolen horses, etc.), and Ambrose creates a credible teenage character in George Shannon. Shannon starts out as a complete "greenhorn" who must beg and plead with Captain Lewis to take him along. He learns quickly and develops into an accomplished hunter and tracker, but when tempers flare and he gets into a fistfight, he becomes worried: "I fear...I am becoming as wild as this river...this is not right." Shannon matures on the journey, taking an Indian wife, fathering a son, even learning that he is capable of taking human life. At the end of his life, Shannon finds himself offering advice to a young cadet named Robert E. Lee: I learned...never to give up, even when you are lost without your balls." Rifle balls, that is.
This Vast Land was Ambroses last book, edited and published by family after his death in 2002. Full of expertly wrought historical detail and earthy humor, the novel is a lively addition to the award-winning writers significant body of work . (Ages 13 and older)--Jennifer Hubert
From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up-A fictional diary of the youngest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. Ambrose does a good job of weaving fictional elements, such as George Shannon's thoughts and his romance and child with an Indian girl, with the historical facts of the expedition and what is known of Shannon's real life. The book opens with the young man, more accustomed to books than the outdoor life, persuading Lewis to let him join the expedition, and continues with his determined mastery of hunting, survival, and leadership skills that make him a valuable member of the Corps. Readers will fear for Shannon's life when he becomes separated from the main group for almost two weeks, and share his conflict over whether to return to civilization or continue the life he has created in the wilderness. The diary entries are occasionally salted with the rough language and sexual thoughts and actions that would be common in a group of young men, and the writing style will take a competent reader, as the sentences are often long and convoluted. A good choice for older teens who are interested in this fascinating expedition.
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Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
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