Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
ISBN: 0684811073
EAN13: 9780684811079
Language: English
Pages: 511
Dimensions: 1.6" H x 9.5" L x 6.5" W
Weight: 1.6 lbs.
Format: Hardcover

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Band of Brothers and D-Day, the definitive book on Lewis and Clark's exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, the most momentous expedition in American history and one of the great adventure stories of all time.

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 Read More chevron_right

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This is the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition as told from Lewis’ perspective using his journals and letters. It seems to have been a work of love for Ambrose and I definitely recommend it if you are interested in the expedition.
A few highlights. Lewis was Jeffereson’s aide in the White House and was personally tutored by him and they had an almost father-son relationship. Although his education was limited and somewhat defective due to poor tutors and family demands, Lewis got a basic education and his time with Jefferson took him to a high level. He was not an expert in anything, but had a solid knowledge of everything. He was the perfect man for the mission because he combined rugged outdoor skills and stamina, military discipline, a broad eclectic knowledge, a good head for administration, and had the President’s trust. Any one or two of these traits could be found in others, but no one possessed them all.
Once funding was secured Lewis went to Philadelphia and was tutored by the top botanists, geologists, astronomers, etc. in the country to prepare for his trip. His records showed the imprint of this training in their accuracy, detail and breadth of insight. He found and documented about 120 new species on the expedition and his astronomical readings were accurate.
Lewis was officially the leader, but he insisted that Clark be given equal rank and pay -- it was intended but the bureaucrats messed it up and there were some hurt feelings about it. Normally a two-headed command is a terrible idea, but Lewis and Clark trusted each other implicitly and there appear to have been no conflicts beyond minor quibbles. Lewis treated Clark as a peer throughout and insisted upon his getting equal pay when they returned.
I will not attempt to summarize their trip. It was without hyperbole, epic. Despite travelling thousands of miles over ridiculously rugged unmapped land with often hostile Indians, they lost only one man and his death came from an appendicitis, not accident or fighting.
One surprise for me was Indian sexual morality: they were exceedingly promiscuous and the truth behind the story of Sacagawea was profoundly sad, not noble. She was abducted as a teen, lost in a gambling match to a French trapper and was one of his two wives.
(Spoiler) I was a bit startled to discover that Lewis went on to commit suicide. It appears he had a hereditary streak of depression, but his earlier years of activity and success kept it at bay. In particular the demands of the expedition forced him to function at peak focus and discipline both physically and mentally. However, after returning from the journey he became a folk hero, a heavy drinker, embroiled in the politics of the Louisiana Territory, financial distress, and was unable to marry as he had hoped. Put all of these factors together and we find Lewis killing himself in drunken anguish at a roadside inn in Tennessee. A profoundly sad ending.
In his busyness and depression Lewis never got around to properly publishing the notes from his expedition. Key pieces came out in dribs and drabs, but this was a serious failure on his part both for knowledge and for the financial gain it could have brought.
 
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