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Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West [Paperback]

Stephen E. Ambrose
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 2 1997
From the 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 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.

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From Amazon

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
From the west-facing window of the room 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. Read the first page
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Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep / Insightful July 13 2004
Ambrose wrote a very complete book here. Obviously extensive, well researched, and with a good flow - this book is worth reading. My pick with this book would be it moves along a little on the slow side, but so did Lewis & Clark on this voyage.
High Points:
Descriptions & Interpretations from the original journals - superb.
Multiple points of view, Lewis, Clark, the members of the corps of discovery, native americans, etc. Ambrose brings these to life.
Intricate step by step accounts of the trip.
Improvement Points:
At times it just moves along too slowly - Ambrose could have made it a bit more concise.
Confusing ending, did Lewis commit suicide? Was he muredered, Ambroses' guesses leave something to be desired.
All in all this is a good book which should be read by any aspiring student of history.
Joseph Dworak
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit wordy, but holds your interest Nov. 15 2003
By A Customer
The book basically follows the journals of Lewis & Clark as they make their way west. It gets a bit tedious at times to hear of how Lewis shot yet another buffalo for dinner or took a walk, but if you just move through it at a good pace you'll enjoy the ride.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What A Shame Nov. 8 2003
I took the advice of that author, Norman Thomas Remick, who wrote that sterling review of this book and, generally, complimented Stephen Ambrose as being the best. He is right. This book was great, and Ambrose probably **was** the best. I also went on to read Remick's book, "West Point..Thomas Jefferson" which is factually drawn from Jefferson's own readings and writings. It's important enough that everyone should read it. A real sleeper. What a shame it doesn't get more of a push.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Could you do it? Oct. 19 2003
By Janae
Written by Stephen Ambrose, an experienced author, Undaunted Courage is an account of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. This novel is written for someone who is not knowledgeable about this historic journey, and is written at a high school level (I should know, I'm in high school!). Ambrose designed this book to be a balance of fact and story told from Meriwether Lewis's view. The author presents a balance of facts, excerpts from Meriwether Lewis's journal, and his own voice telling the story.
Ambrose organized the story in chronological order, beginning with Lewis's childhood. He continues with the details on Lewis's teen and adult life, and continues on through the expedition and the events after the expedition's return. Lewis's childhood and adulthood prior to the expedition is details through the first six chapters. Chapter seven begins with the preparation for the expedition, detailing how the men who went on the expedition were chosen, the gathering of supplies, and the difficulties. The joint captainship of the expedition by Lewis and Clark magnifies how well they worked together. Chapters 8 through 12 detail the first year of the expedition. It begins with the travels of Lewis from Washington to Pittsburgh, where the expedition gathered and prepared to set off. The first leg of the journey down the Ohio River to the Missouri River to the winter camp of 1803 is told with emphasis on discoveries of new wildlife. Chapters 13 through 18 relate encounters with the Mandan and Sioux Indians. The winter of 1804 was spent at Fort Mandan with the Mandan Indians, who were very friendly. The expedition then continued up the Missouri River and encountered the Sioux. Unlike the Mandan Indians, the Sioux were hostile and demanded goods to let the expedition continue up the river.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Katie
A biography of Meriwether Lewis, this book is truly wonderful. Blending the usage of journals, events, and commentary, Undaunted Courage gives a wide-ranging account of Lewis's life, from his greatest success, the Corps of Discovery, to the smaller matters in his life. A bit to comprehensive if you're looking for a simple biography, and a bit narrow if you want the whole Corps of Discovery (while included, this book is about Lewis), but if you're looking for a detailed history of one of America's finest men, this is your book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gifted Storyteller Sept. 8 2003
The mystery of the U.S. West and the persona of the explorers who revealed its splendor are eloquently told in this book. Thomas Jefferson's interest in exploring the western territory extended back a half a century as his family had been awarded land west of the Appalachian Mountains. A week after Congress had approved funding for the expedition, Jefferson began writing his scientific friends about the matter. He had selected Captain Lewis to lead the discovery mission. While Lewis and Clark are linked permanently in American history, the two were distinct individuals. In 1803 they were not even intimate friends. An invitation by Captain Lewis to William Clark changed all that. Clark was chosen, in part, due to his competence and because "his word was his bond." Clark was a woodsman who was familiar with rugged territory. From the President's perspective it was the Lewis expedition. The book goes on to describe the personalities and the personal weaknesses of the people involved. He adds a discussion about the intellectual property resulting from discoveries made on the trip. In all, a new dimension is provided that makes for a very well written book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars true but still thrilling Aug. 16 2003
this true account reads like an adventure book
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars History Comes Alive
I listened to this as a Book on Tape as read by Barret Whitener.

In terms of the technical quality of the book and narrative I had no complaints. Read more
Published on June 9 2011 by B. Breen
3.0 out of 5 stars Underestimates the reader's imagination and memory
I was disappointed in this book, which I listened to on tape. It was terribly wordy, and took every opportunity to drum in the obvious or reiterate the dangers, deprivations,... Read more
Published on May 13 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Parents Beware!
Parents, If you're looking for a good history book for your children to read, please beware.
While Ambrose credibly presents the exploits of the Corps of Discovery, he also... Read more
Published on March 11 2004 by H. B. Estabrooks Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun Reading But Incomplete As History
This is a biography of Lewis and not, as most assume, a history of the Lewis and Clark exploration. Ambrose himself goes to great length to point this out. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2004 by John Bauer
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Honest
I really enjoyed this book and looked forward to reading it every day. I found it a little difficult in the beginning (although I'd just finished the Harry Potter series, so maybe... Read more
Published on Dec 8 2003 by Amazon.com Fan
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that will always be remembered
"Undaunted Courage," by the great American author Stephen E. Ambrose is a book that will always be remembered. Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2003 by Bert Ruiz
5.0 out of 5 stars Come, Travel With The Corps!
"Undaunted Courage" is an outstanding narrative of the Lewis & Clark Expedition of two centuries ago. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2003 by James Gallen
5.0 out of 5 stars Agree With Author
I agree with author Norman Thomas Remick ("West Point:..Thomas Jefferson") who said that Stephen Ambrose was the best, ever, at informing the public by making history... Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2003 by A History Teacher
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a Shame
In an otherwise finely readable account of the great Lewis and Clark Expedition and related matters, Stephen Ambrose shamefully attacks Meriwether Lewis's character, calling him a... Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2003 by bo seaman
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