Summary of: Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first map of the trans-Mississippi West, provided invaluable scientific data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information about weather, terrain, and medical knowledge at the time to provide a vivid backdrop for the expedition. Lewis is supported by a rich variety of colorful characters, first of all Jefferson himself, whose interest in exploring and acquiring the American West went back thirty years. Next comes Clark, a rugged frontiersman whose love for Lewis matched Jefferson’s. There are numerous Indian chiefs, and Sacagawea, the Indian girl who accompanied the expedition, along with the French-Indian hunter Drouillard, the great naturalists of Philadelphia, the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis, John Quincy Adams, and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
High adventure, high politics, suspense, drama, and diplomacy combine with high romance and personal tragedy to make this outstanding work of scholarship as readable as a novel.
Review of: Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West
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.