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Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West Hardcover – February 15, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A biography of Meriwether Lewis that relies heavily on the journals of both Lewis and Clark, this book is also backed up by the author's personal travels along Lewis and Clark's route to the Pacific. Ambrose is not content to simply chronicle the events of the "Corps of Discovery" as the explorers called their ventures. He often pauses to assess the military leadership of Lewis and Clark, how they negotiated with various native peoples and what they reported to Jefferson. Though the expedition failed to find Jefferson's hoped for water route to the Pacific, it fired interest among fur traders and other Americans, changing the face of the West forever.

From Publishers Weekly

Ambrose has written prolifically about men who were larger than life: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Colonel Custer. Here he takes on half of the two-headed hero of American exploration: Meriwether Lewis. Ambrose, his wife and five children have followed the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition for 20 summers, in the course of which the explorer has become a friend of the Ambrose family; the author's affection shines through this narrative. Meriwether Lewis, as secretary to Thomas Jefferson and living in the White House for two years, got his education by being apprenticed to a great man. Their friendship is at the center of this account. Jefferson hand-picked Lewis for the great cross-country trek, and Lewis in turn picked William Clark to accompany him. The two men shook hands in Clarksville, Ohio, on October 14, 1803, then launched their expedition. The journals of the expedition, most written by Clark, are one of the treasures of American history. Here we learn that the vital boat is behind schedule; the boat builder is always drunk, but he's the only one available. Lewis acts as surveyor, builder and temperance officer in his effort to get his boat into the river. Alcohol continues to cause him problems both with the men of his expedition and later, after his triumphant return, in his own life, which ended in suicide at the age of 35. Without adding a great deal to existing accounts, Ambrose uses his skill with detail and atmosphere to dust off an icon and put him back on the trail west. History Book Club main selection; BOMC split selection; QPB alternate; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (February 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684811073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684811079
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (970 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

258 of 262 people found the following review helpful By R. Kent Bailey on April 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is the most exciting piece of non fiction I've ever read. Ambrose makes the reader feel as though they are right there with the expedition as they battle disease, starvation, treacherous whitewater, hostile indians and the environment itself as they struggle to cross the unexplored interior of the United States. The Lewis & Clark expedition I learned about in school was seriously lacking in excitement when compared to this chronicle.
The beginning of the book is somewhat tedious as Ambrose spends what seems like far too many pages listing off the various supplies obtained and preparations made for the voyage. Once the expedition begins, however, the book is hard to put down.
The extensive use of the actual diaries of the expedition members lends a vibrance to the descriptions of the various tribes of Indians, wildlife, and natural obstacles encountered. The diaries also offer a glimpse into the personalities of these famous figures and their crew. The holes left by the diaries and other historical documents are deftly filled in by Ambrose. He further colors the characters, settings, and situations with well grounded inference.
Additionally, the author's detailed treatment of the political situation in the United States at the time places this journey in great historic and political perspective.
Highly recomended!
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86 of 92 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Undaunted Courage" is a wonderful journey through the past. It is detail and detail, mixed with adventure and adventure, with a pinch of suspense added in to create the feeling that you are there. The book has led me to a keen interest in Thomas Jefferson and his many little known but great contributions to America, which in turn led me to another journey through the past involving Thomas Jefferson in the book "West Point" by Norman Remick. Like "Undaunted Courage", "West Point" is another monumental feat of research. I have to thank Mr. Ambrose for writing like the good and interesting teacher who stimulates the student and opens the doorways to further knowledge.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For a fascinating and informative journey through American lore and history, Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" is a great choice. It's a story of daunting physical and mental courage, and, the beginning of how the West was won. I feel I would also like to add my name to those other reviewers who recommend also reading Norman Thomas Remick's "West Point: Character Leadership Education, A Book Developed From Thomas Jefferson's Readings And Writings" which is less about West Point and more the epic of America's historical and philosophical genesis.
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84 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Mike Powers TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Undaunted Courage" is historian Stephen E. Ambrose's masterfully told and compelling account of The Lewis and Clark expedition, one of the most historically significant journeys of exploration in American history.

Relying extensively on the Journals of Lewis and Clark, Ambrose has put together a highly entertaining, meticulously researched, wonderfully readable, and fast paced narrative that interweaves a fascinating biography of Meriwether Lewis with a spellbinding account of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Ambrose captures completely with his fast-paced narrative the key events of the Lewis and Clark expedition. With a keen eye for detail, he describes the formation of the Corps of Discovery; its ascent to the headwaters of the Missouri River and its many encounters with native tribes along the way; the crossing of the "Great Portage," the Continental Divide, and the Rocky Nountains; and its encampment in November 1805 on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Also described is the expedition's return voyage, when the expedition once again searched in vain for a water route to the Pacific, and also when the expedition had its one and only hostile engagement with natives. Finally, Ambrose describes the aftermath of the expedition - how the Journals of Lewis and Clark came to be published, and the divergent (and, for Lewis, ultimately tragic) careers of these two great explorers.

I found Ambrose's portraits of the key players in this real-life drama to be superb! Lewis is a born naturalist with a keen eye for scientific observation. He's also a gifted leader of men, ever conscious of his subordinates' welfare, and always gaining from them loyalty that is complete and willingly given.
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101 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Bill Chaisson on November 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
Ambrose chose a huge sprawling subject and wrote a medium size book that does not sprawl at all. In order to accomplish this he had to write in an almost telegraphic style. This book is largely descriptive with frequent, but brief interpretive asides.
Ambrose's admiration for Meriwether Lewis is great, but he is not remiss in pointing out when the brave captain was rash and showed bad judgement. One ominous theme that Ambrose keeps returning to is the mental illness that ran in Lewis's family. He is careful never to explicitly label an act of rashness as an "episode", but he implies it.
Anyone fascinated by native American cultures should read this book. It offers a tantalizing look at several tribes either at or immediately following "contact". If you know anything about the later history of the tribes of the Upper Missouri and Pacific Northwest, this book just drips with tragedy and none of it is spelled out in a silly melodramatic way; Ambrose's restraint makes the impact that much greater.
One thing that I found jarring about the writing in this book was Ambrose's irregular tendency to insert sentences in vernacular rather than standard written English. Lewis and Clark and their expedition are occasionally referred to as "guys" and what they are carrying is called "stuff". This sort of casual voice seemed out of place to me and broke the mood of the narrative.
If you don't expect history books to be particularly literary, but just to tell a good story, then you'll think this is a terrific book. If you are looking for a meditation on the ramifications of the L&C expedition with regard to the settling of the American West, then this book is a little sparse on analysis, although it is good about reporting salient information. Having read it, I guess I feel prepared to read more in-depth account about smaller segments of this story.
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