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

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted April 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    a well told narrative of the great American adventure

    Perhaps no other journey, save the landings on the moon, has fired the American imagination like the expedition of Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean and back. It is the story of the opening of the American West, of an incredible tale of leadership and personal hardship, and it offers a first glimpse into an unknown native world that no longer exists. Undaunted Courage is Ambrose's attempt at placing the Lewis and Clark expedition within the context of the early years of the American republic, especially from the perspective of Captain Meriwether Lewis.

    Ambrose, who was a historian in New Orleans, had a great ability to focus on larger events, from the perspective of leaders, and especially leaders who had a hands-on experience with great events. His works in the later part of his career, like the famed Band of Brothers, focused on small military units, which faced unique circumstances, and exhibited great bravery through trying times. In a sense, the Lewis and Clark expedition was the first Band of Brothers: two officers and roughly thirty enlisted men, trekking over unknown territory, and out of touch with their command and the rest of civilization for over two years.

    This book is written partly as a biography of Captain Lewis, who was also the equivalent of today's White House Chief of Staff in the Jefferson administration. Ambrose presents Lewis as a trusted man, given to wandering, beset by personal demons and depression, driven to success, but often forgetful in critical moments of his task. Most of all, he wants the reader to understand that the expedition would have failed, as many other shorter ones did in this time period, were it not for the excellent junior officer leadership, and the real espirit de corps that the enlisted men developed; as their very survival depended on the type of teamwork they created.

    Ambrose loved this subject, probably as much as any other in his career. He spent a significant amount of personal time camping and traveling the route that Lewis & Clark took, for decades before this book came to print. His first hand knowledge of the difficult terrain traveled adds a sense of realism. This is more than a memoir of Lewis. It is a travel and nature description, particularly of the mountain and Pacific Northwest. The writing style reads aloud well, almost as if Ambrose would like the reader to take the book and read portions at a campfire, as he often read portions of the Lewis & Clark journal over campfires to his students.

    There are good maps, which make following the journey easier, but there are not many pictures. This is more than just a retelling of the Lewis & Clark journals, as it relies extensively on secondary sources, and his own personal historical judgments of the group's decision making processes. There are times when the writing could be tighter, when it would be better if Ambrose would not linger so long over a particular time period, as the group encountered an Indian tribe, or regarding the preparation for the expedition. Perhaps because Ambrose really loved this subject so much, that he does tend to gush over his subject, but that is a minor quibble. What the reader should find is a great tale of adventure, and a leadership study of two officers who complimented each other as well as any could.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    The way west.

    Stephen Ambrose writes more than a recounting of Lewis' and Clark's expedition of the Louisiana purchase. It is a full biography of Meriwether Lewis. It gives details of his youth and growing up and how Jefferson took him under his wing. It provides information on how Lewis was selected to lead this expedition and the intense training he received in preparing for this long trek. I did not know that Lewis completed what could almost be considered a Master's training in the sciences in several months to prepare him. I was unaware of all the discoveries that he made and I was also unaware that the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean. There are times when Ambrose does not have information from Lewis or very little from Clark that he does take license and extrapolate his own thoughts, which while reasonable are not necessarily factually based, but this is done very little and does not take away from the quality of the work presented. It is one that I highly enjoyed and recommend.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2010

    If only history was this interesting in grade school...

    I bought this book to learn more about the Lewis and Clark Trails as I live in Yankton, SD on the Missouri River. Great information on the various President's and the development of the various territories/states and how the land was purchased. I may have learned all of this in grade school but it didn't stick. Reading this book has made it stick.

    I found it informative, insightful, factual and just good reading. This is a book to read again a few years down the road.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2010

    Forerunners of Our Future, and the Adventure of Their Century

    It's so interesting that Thomas Jefferson, the champion of small government would be able to see the future so clearly in purchasing Louisiana from Napoleon and the French. But he saw it clearly and acted in a very federal government leveraging way to gain the land west of the Mississippi. It was also so interesting that this renaissance-man president would take such a personal interested and assume responsibility for not only selecting Meriwether Lewis, but also in conducting so much of his training. Can you imagine any modern president not delegating such a task? This is a book that paints the picture, not only of western scenes, Indians and amazing animals not seen before by most Americans; it paints lucid portraits of the main players in the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Stephen Ambrose tells the tale in such a way as to build suspense. And yet it's not just an action book - but one that ponders the meaning of people's lives and the events. All the while, we feel the sense of their awareness that they were making history and literally opening up the future of our nation. I prefer the unabridged version so as not to miss any details. I highly recommend this book. History does not always come packaged in such high adventure!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2004

    A Good Rainy Day Read

    This is a good, reader friendly account of one of the most interesting times in American history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2003

    Descriptions are amazing

    I'm a high school junior and we're learning about the early colonial period now in American History. I thought I would read Undaunted Courage to give me a leg up and give me more detailed information about that time. It has done that and so much more. Ambrose makes it so fascinating as he recounts the thoughts and trials that Lewis and Clark must undergo. The descriptions of what they see, experience, discover, and observe is incredible. It has given me a new appreciation for what these men had to do to reach the Pacific. I strongly recommend this book. Don't let the subject matter stop you; it IS actually enjoyable and doesn't read out like a stuffy history lesson.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 1999

    Amazing book. A must read.

    Just truely amazing. Even if you don't like histroy you will enjoy this book. Makes you feel like an expert.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2007

    A great rendition of the Lewis and Clark saga!

    The author tells the complete story, by including background information, beginning early in the lives of the two leaders of the expedition. He also gives readers much insight into how and why Thomas Jefferson had such a passion for the project. Steven Ambrose presents the raw facts of the expetition, while crafting a very compelling story! You will read it again.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 1999

    Lewis and Clark Expedition Revealed

    Ambrose, I believe to be one of the greatest literary historians of his decade. He chronicles the Lewis and Clark expedition from conception to treking their way to the Rocky Mountains. Based primarily on the Lewis and Clark journals that were scattered and often incomplete with gaps in days, and some of the journals were lost. Ambrose fills in the missing peices of the historical surveying trip. Two thumbs up to Ambrose on his views concerning Thomas Jefferson and his administration. To me this could be standard reading material for all students of history and govenment. Also, Ambrose is experienced enough in his own writing ability that it is a pleasure for the reader to endure. I found myself not being able to put it down. Thanks again Stephen.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2014

    amazing

    I was recommended this book by a friend and found it very enlightening and very descriptive. Awesome read for anyone wanting to know a little more than what is taught in class. Makes you wish you could go back and be selected for the adventure yourself.

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  • Posted June 18, 2012

    Excellent!

    I haven't finished this yet but am really enjoying it. It is obviously been well researched. My only problem is like all Nook books, the maps are unreadable. If you want this for reference, you should buy the print edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2012

    doesn't work on mac, iphone4s or nook.

    I'm not happy with this order. I cannot use it at all!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2011

    Great reading!

    Learned so much. Never new the whole story. Made me want to be a 19th century explorer. Looking forward to other Ambrose reads.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

    Great history of the time period.

    A story of true adventure in the early days of the United States. Didn't think I'd enjoy this as I'm not a camping kind of outdoors person. It is an interesting read with a surprising ending. Glad I read it through to the end.

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  • Posted September 14, 2010

    One of the best books I have read in a long time

    My grandparents had this book for quite a while and they said it was one of the best books either of them had ever read. I was interested but I never had the opportunity to read it, that was till I had the chance to read it. It was amazing; at least that's what I thought. The book covers everything, from Lewis's time in the army fighting the Indians, to the start of the expedition, going over the divide, drown the Columbia, and then something unexpected, he also told the story of the expedition going back, and this story I had never here. None of this I will reveal, and I think it was the best part because it was all new to me. This book really shows the struggles on more of a human level, but it's still keeps the epic journey feel to it. Another cool thing was that it contained journal entrees by Lewis and Clark, which was very unique and I have never seen that before. At really nice to see what the actual explorers were thinking on this expedition. But my favorite thing was its completeness, out of all the books I have read or movies/shows I have seen, never have I found one as complete as this one. Everything is covered from beginning to end. It describes the forts the man set up, the lands, the peoples, the animals, the explorers, and so on and so forth. One of the most interesting things it discussed was Lewis's writings on Indian tribes. The author devoted whole chapters about the major tribes and discussed the tribes hunting patterns, traditions, and homelands. The author also discussed the history of the tribe and what happened to the tribe in the coming years, which was incredibly interesting for me. All in all this was truly one of the best books I have ever read and I wish to read some of the authors other books, I highly recommend this book to all.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2008

    Historical but not too dry

    Lets face it- nonfiction is frequently not exciting, but this book was pretty good. I enjoyed his syntax and diction, and the way he quoted Lewis and Clark- that was a nice refreshment, to see what they really thought.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2008

    An excellent history

    Undaunted Courage is an excellent history of the travels of the Lewis and Clark party. Beginning with the debates in Washington regarding the merits of such an expedition, followed by the supply chain trials and tribulations that Lewis faced pre-expedition, the book delves into the minutiae that such an expedition faced. As such, it tends to drag at the beginning. However, as the reader fights through the first few chapters, a sense of anticipation begins to develop. At times the reader may feel some of the same anticipation that Lewis and Clark felt in the months leading up to their voyage. From the embarkation point on, the reader is told the history of the voyage literally through the words of Lewis and Clark themselves. A wonderful read and it should be REQUIRED learning for anyone living in the northern United States West of the Mississippi. The book gives a great description of America before the first settlers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2007

    A REAL page turner.

    This non fiction book was great to read. It opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of Lewis. It was really hard to get into, but once I did, it was great. I would have liked more information on Clark, but that is okay. It was good to hear things about Jefferson, too. You could tell that Ambrose had real passion for this subject. Sometimes he would wander and ramble, but other than that it was good. If you are interested in history, I highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2007

    Merry weather, Lewis

    This book was a fantastic look on the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The author's words in the book were greatly involved, and the book also provided excellent background on the life of Captain Lewis, as well as Clark and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few. Although the book is quite a bit slow in the beginning, even somewhat boring in my opinion, the book is overall worth to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2006

    I'm sorry, but I do NOT like this book at all!

    This book did not hold my atttention very well. Mr. Ambrose would start to ramble about things while writing. He would go on for pages about something that did not concern much- such as how the corps loved to eat dog, and the Indians had dogs, so one guy bought a little dog and ate it and this other guy bought a big dog and ate it, and then they both decided to get dog the next day too, and then they wanted to get some the next day, so they did and they ate it, and then these other indians had some dogs too, and so they decided to go get that dog too so that they could each eat ten dogs! Much like that. However, people who seem to like books that are very factual would probably love this book. I also congratulate this author on picking a remarkable story, although I don't much have interest in it anymore because of Undaunted Courage.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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