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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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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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A great author can struggle with a pedestrian story and a great story be tarnished by an unskilled author. However, Undaunted Courage is the re-telling of a classic story from the heart of America by a great author who also loves and lives the material. There are so many mini-stories woven into the book that it helps to stimulate entertaining discussions of this historic accomplishment.
The book also brought to me a far greater appreciation of Jefferson's great impact on art and science in the young republic. While we think of thte expedition in terms of its impact on our political history, it was equally important in gaining an understanding of the biological and geographical wonders of the uncharted wilderness.
It is a wonderful gift to young people to help them understand the foundation of our westward growth. Reads with the excitement of a novel and the enlightenment of good history.
It is hard not to repeat the many good things said about this book other than to mention that if I were to be allowed only 5 books to take for a year of isolation this would be one.
It's easy, but rewarding reading.
Highly recommended and a book that's filled a lot of Christmas stockings and birthday packages in our family.
I think the most remarkable character is Sakajawea, their guide and interpreter. She went on the trail pregnant, gave birth in the field, then carried the baby on her back.
Another remarkable aspect of the expedition is that for the entire treacherous journey, only one man was lost; this attests to the excellent leadership of Lewis and Clarke.
What I liked least about this book is Ambrose's unquestioning high regard for Jefferson, but since Ambrose's attitude reflects that of Lewis's, I can go with it.
The outtakes of the journals, the excellent maps, and the good-natured commentary combine to make me LIKE the characters. I feel familiar with them after reading this book. I am impressed by their accomplishments, and feel I know them as people much better.
It is also clear that Ambrose knows the areas where Lewis and Clark explored. Many of his notations tell how the area described look to present-day canoers or hikers, and he gives highway exits and directions to some of the less-remote campsites and overlooks. Ambrose's love for the beauties of western America comes through, and they add to the fond tone of the book.