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This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 1, 2003

2.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Renowned historian Stephen Ambrose vividly brings to life Lewis and Clark’s 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 Ambrose’s 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 writer’s 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.
Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing; First Edition edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689864485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689864483
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Stephen Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than 30 books. Among his New York Times best-sellers are: Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage.He was not only a great author, but also a captivating speaker, with the unique ability to provide insight into the future by employing his profound knowledge of the past. His stories demonstrate how leaders use trust, friendship and shared experiences to work together and thrive during conflict and change. His philosophy about keeping an audience engaged is put best in his own words: "As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next." Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans. He was the Director Emeritus of the Eisenhower Center in New Orleans, and the founder of the National D-Day Museum. He was also a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History, a member of the board of directors for American Rivers, and a member of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council Board. His talents have not gone unnoticed by the film industry. Dr. Ambrose was the historical consultant for Steven Spielberg's movie Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to his books Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers to make the 13-hour HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. He has also participated in numerous national television programs, including ones for the History Channel and National Geographic.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#52 in Books > History
#52 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought several copies of this book to store away for Christmas presents for my grandchildren and other young friends....ages 7-12.
The book, in diary form, starts off well and is, actually, delightful reading.
Why the author(s)(I think Ambrose's family contributed to the final copy) decided to throw in totally inappropriate sexual scenes is beyond me.
The young man who is the protagonist of the story loses his virginity and impregnates a young Indian girl by the 4th or 5th chapter. The description of his sexual debut is frank and tasteless.
Now all I have to do is try to figure out what to do with 10 useless copies of what could have been a wonderful opportunity to learn American history in an interesting format.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book as an inspiring look at the Lewis and Clark expedition and a good exploration of the savage versus civilized theme, but the sexual content detracts from the book in two ways.

First, ~This Vast Land~ seems aimed at young teens. It would have been ideal for this audience (I was hoping to assign it in class), but the sexual content makes it an inappropriate choice. I wouldn't stop my own children from reading it, but many parents would.

This is unfortunate because the sex seems entirely out of place. I would be surprised to find that any 18 year old in the turn of the 19th century would be comfortable writing in such detail about the motions and pleasures of his "member." Also, the book is written as Shannon's journal, which the character later writes he intends for his children. Even if we ignore historical sensibilities, who wants to give the kids a play-by-play about how dad and mom lost their virginity together?

So the inclusion of such frank sexual content is an odd choice that ultimately detracts from the book by forcing the reader out of the historical context and forcing the book out of its young-adult genre.

One other criticisms. The ending of the book contains an abrupt shift in tone from triumphant to melancholy that seems too contrived. Putting my two criticisms together, it seems that Ambrose was trying so hard to make his book more "serious" than genre fiction that he caused it to fail as genre fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
As an adult, I would first like to mention that this book has some brief sexual content that some parents may not find suitable for children. Overall, however, it is an engaging and informative glimpse into the Lewis and Clark expedition that left me wanting to know more, and wanting to travel the path myself. I found the diary style of storytelling an interesting one that led authenticity to the story as well as made it easier to read than some straightforward history texts. Of course, this is a fictionalized account, but I think it gives the reader a good idea of the conditions and feelings likely experienced by the Corps of Discovery. The language and even spelling and grammar are consistent with the time period and the education level of the narrator. I found this to be an exciting book that made you wonder what lay ahead, what the next discovery or encounter would bring. I do think this is a valuable book for younger readers, but it should be read with parental guidance due to the sexual content. I also think adult readers looking for an easier portal into the world of Lewis and Clark would enjoy this book as well.
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