Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Lewis & Clark Expedition) by Stephen E. Ambrose


The narrative style of Ambrose takes what could be a dry lecture and makes it extremely interesting. The book reads like a best selling novel. The book gives a nice background on Captain Meriwether Lewis. It shows how this background prepared Lewis for the journey and how it provided the relationship he had with Jefferson to lead to his selection for the journey. Lewis was Jefferson’s personal secretary when selected to lead the voyage that would take him up the Missouri River, to wintering with the Indians, to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis experienced hardships and saw wonderful sights. The sites included herds of buffalo and Indian tribes with no previous contact with white men. He and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first maps of the trans-Mississippi West, provided data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and most importantly established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

The book shows how Lewis is financially underwritten by a variety of characters. This list includes Jefferson, Clark, 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 and national unity. This is a book also about a tragedy. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was a national hero. Lewis greatest failure was he did not get his journals and notes organized and published. The scholarly value of those would have been great. Publishing them in a timely manner would have made Lewis financially independent. Instead Lewis took to drink, drugs, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, experienced severe depression (probably from the drugs), and ultimately took his own life. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in February – March 2005.

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