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Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West Paperback – June 2, 1997
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Ken Burns Stephen Ambrose is that rare breed: a historian with true passion for his subject. Here he takes one of the great, but also one of the most superficially considered, stories in American history and breathes fresh life into it. Lewis comes alive as we've never known him.
From the Publisher
Undaunted Courage is the story of a heroic and legendary man, and the saga of a great nation creating itself. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson chose Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead the first government- backed exploration of the vast and unknown western territory of what would become part of the United States. Lewis was the perfect choice.
Undaunted Courage is first and foremost a significant, scholarly work, yet it reads like an adventure novel filled with high drama, suspense, and personal tragedy. It brings to life the times and circumstances of Meriwether Lewis and his unprecedented expedition, and renews our wonder of the vastness of our country and the heroics of our forefathers.
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It would be disrespectful not to pay homage to Lewis and Clark. Granted they never visited the park but without their efforts in exploration might have been delayed, and John Coulter was with them.
Stephen Ambrose has always impressed me and his Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West [Kindle Edition] was a great read. It is described as the “definitive” title on the venture and I found easy to pick up and put down, spending more than three months reading in completing it. . It follows Lewis through the arduous journey and up to hid tragic suicide. If you are going to pick one non-Yellowstone title for perspective,
As usual Ambrose is easy to read and Undaunted Courage is a lot easier than reading the journals themselves, which can be a labor of love.
If you are going to pick one non-Yellowstone title for perspective, I would pick this
A small core group assembled at an initial staging area near Louisville, on the Ohio River, where they acquired boats and supplies. They took the river downstream to St. Louis, Missouri on the Mississippi River, which at that time was part of the western frontier of the young United States. There they made final preparations and took on provisions, ammunition, other supplies, and additional personnel for the expedition. The expedition formally began there in St. Louis. The party proceeded by canoe up the Mississippi River to its confluence with the Missouri River, then took the Missouri River upstream to its headwaters. The explorers made many camps along the way, established relations with the many Indian tribes they encountered, and received tons of assistance from them, better enabling the explorers to overcome the various and sundry challenges they confronted and seize whatever opportunities arose along the way.
Beyond the Missouri's headwaters, the expedition had to proceed overland. Thanks to helpful guidance from the Indians, the party found a broad, gentle, well-traveled Indian trail through a pass that took them safely across the Continental Divide, thereby sparing them from an arduous, dangerous climb up and down the rugged Rocky Mountains. When the intrepid explorers reached a river system on the western side of the Divide, they resumed the rest of their westward journey by canoe. This water route eventually took them to the Columbia River, which carried them to the Pacific coast.
In the return trip back east to St. Louis, the expedition partially retraced its westbound steps, but also explored new routes.
Round-trip, the expedition lasted 2 years and 4 months. During that time, the expedition faced and overcame massive challenges related to weather, terrain, sickness, food, shelter, clothing and their beasts of burden. The explorers encountered literally dozens of Indian tribes on the outbound and return treks, proactively established relations with them and dealt with the problems that sometimes arose in those situations. Overall, the information and assistance that friendly Indians provided the expedition far outweighed any trouble that arose during encounters with hostile Indians, and contributed to the success of the expedition.
The explorers also saw majestic views and nature's beauty, although one wonders whether the challenges they faced 24/7 enabled them to take much pleasure in those scenes.
If you like history, adventure, travel, and colorful, intelligent writing, you will love this book. I've listened to the audio version multiple times, masterfully read by Cotter Smith.