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

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

by Stephen E. Ambrose


This is the paperback edition. 

Other editions:
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Book Description

From the bestselling author of the definitive book on D-Day comes the definitive book on 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 was the perfect choice. He endured incredible hardships and saw incredible sights, including vast herds of buffalo and Indian tribes that had had no previous contact with white men. He 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 colorful and realistic backdrop for the expedition. Lewis saw the North American continent before any other white man; Ambrose describes in detail native peoples, weather, landscape, science, everything the expedition encountered along the way, through Lewis's eyes.

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.

This is a book about a hero. This is a book about national unity. But it is also a tragedy. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was a national hero. But for Lewis, the expedition was a failure. Jefferson had hoped to find an all-water route to the Pacific with a short hop over the Rockies-Lewis discovered there was no such passage. Jefferson hoped the Louisiana Purchase would provide endless land to support farming-but Lewis discovered that the Great Plains were too dry. Jefferson hoped there was a river flowing from Canada into the Missouri-but Lewis reported there was no such river, and thus no U.S. claim to the Canadian prairie. Lewis discovered the Plains Indians were hostile and would block settlement and trade up the Missouri. Lewis took to drink, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, and suffered severe depression.

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.

About the Author

Stephen E. Ambrose is the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller D-Day and multivolume biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He is the founder of the Eisenhower Center and of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. He lives in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Helena, Montana.

Chapter 1 - copyrighted material

Chapter One: Youth 1774-1792

From the west-facing window of the rooms in which Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774, one could look out at Rockfish Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an opening to the West that invited exploration. The Virginia Piedmont of 1774 was not the frontier -- that had extended beyond the Allegheny chain of mountains, and a cultured plantation life was nearly a generation old -- but it wasn't far removed. Traces of the old buffalo trail that led up Rockfish River to the Gap still remained. Deer were exceedingly plentiful, black bear common. An exterminating war was being waged against wolves. Beaver were on every stream. Flocks of turkeys thronged the woods. In the fall and spring, ducks and geese darkened the rivers...

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Editorial Reviews

American History Books

HistoryWiz American History


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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
YA?Though principally a biography of Meriwether Lewis, this narrative also provides fascinating portraits of Thomas Jefferson and William Clark, Sacagawea, and other members of the group of explorers who journeyed from the Ohio River to the Pacific Ocean in the years 1803-1806. While scholarly and well documented, this account is at the same time a great adventure story, and Ambrose generates a sense of excitement and anticipation that mirrors, at least to some degree, the feelings Lewis and Clark must have had as they began their journey. Lewis's intense curiosity about the world around him, his training as a naturalist, and his ability to record what he saw and experienced provide YAs with a fascinating picture of the American frontier in the 19th century. The subject's strengths and weaknesses as a leader are revealed as he and his loyal followers meet every kind of challenge in their search for a navigable water route from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Ambrose incorporates recent research and new material on the expedition into this history, and includes detailed maps and examples of Lewis's journal entries. An eminently readable resource.?Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal
It has been 30 years since the last biography of Meriwether Lewis (Richard Dillon's Meriwether Lewis: A Biography, 1965). Ambrose (history, Univ. of New Orleans), best known for his histories and biographies of the 1940-90 period, uses the journals and documents that have turned up since then, as well as the traditional sources, to craft a careful and detailed biography of Lewis that will stand as the standard account for some time to come. Ambrose not only recounts the expedition Lewis led with Clark but also explains how Lewis came to head it, how he prepared for this task, and how his life unfolded after he returned to Washington and reported to Jefferson. Specialists will appreciate this biography, but general readers will also be enthralled by Ambrose's well-written account. This book belongs in all libraries.
-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times Book Review, Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.
... a swiftly moving, full-dress treatment of the expedition.

From AudioFile
Cotter Smith provides an excellent narration for Ambrose's absorbing tale of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Necessarily shortened in abridgment, the story is no less riveting and, in fact, moves at a pace that informs without delving into too much detail. Smith's steady, clear voice invites the casual enthusiast. He keeps attention on the saga while injecting enough personality to the characters to make them identifiable as the story progresses. R.F.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

From Booklist
For decades, biographer Ambrose had nursed an ambition to chronicle the "Corps of Discovery," as Lewis and Clark styled their ventures. Hitherto detained by opuses on Ike, Nixon, and D-Day, Ambrose here loosens the reins to his admiration of the duo's fearlessness and skill in braving the unknown, an exploration of which had sunk into obscurity in the 1800s but has since ascended to iconic status in American history. Framed as a biography of Lewis, this work relies heavily on both Lewis' and Clark's famed journals, backed up by the author's personal travels along the Missouri River route from St. Louis to the Pacific. A stimulating tour guide, Ambrose paces the mundane so well with the unusual that readers will be entranced. Not content as a mere recorder of deeds, Ambrose often pauses to assess the military leadership of the explorers, how they negotiated with the Mandan, Sioux, or Nez Perce, and what they reported to Jefferson. Ambrose's epic, a combination of rhapsody and reality, feels like a final glimpse at a pristine Eden before the crowd of trappers and settlers altered it forever. The book clubs are also agog over this, so prepare for many requests. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Midwest Book Review
This lively survey of Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the opening of the American West is recommended both for leisure readers of American history and for students: it presents new scholarship in its portrait of expedition leader Lewis and argues that Lewis was a scientist as well as an explorer whose achievements deserve more scientific acclaim. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

DAYTON DUNCAN Author of Out West "Stephen Ambrose had combined his considerable taslents as an historian with his personal enthusiasm for the Lewis and Clark expedition to bring to life one of America's greatest-and most enigmatic-explorers. Undaunted Courage puts you in Meriwether Lewis's moccasins, all the way across the great American West."

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.

A definitive chronicle of the more than two-year journey of Lewis and Clark through western America describes their epic expedition, the hardships they faced, their remarkable discoveries, and the contributions of their guide, Sacajawea. Reprint. 150,000 first printing. NYT. "

Simon & Schuster
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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