The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
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The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

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by Daniel James Brown
     
 

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From the #1 bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat comes an unforgettable epic of family, tragedy, and survival on the American frontier

“An ideal pairing of talent and material.… Engrossing.… A deft and ambitious storyteller.” – Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah

Overview

From the #1 bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat comes an unforgettable epic of family, tragedy, and survival on the American frontier

“An ideal pairing of talent and material.… Engrossing.… A deft and ambitious storyteller.” – Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah’s journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.

Editorial Reviews

Irvin Molotsky
“A compelling retelling of the ghastly events surrounding the Donner party. Daniel James Brown, using one survivor’s experience as his focus, moves beyond the cardboard figures depicted in previous accounts and shows how the lucky few endured and survived.”
Nina Burleigh
“In this gripping narrative, Brown reveals the extremes of endurance that underlie the history of this nation, and more than that, of humanity in any part of the world, even today, surviving great peril in search of a better life.”
Mary Roach
“An ideal pairing of talent and material. . . . Engrossing. . . . A deft and endearing storyteller.”
Seattle Times
“Remarkable. ... Hard to put down.”
BookPage
“Daniel James Brown brings the myth to life, transforming faint history class memories into gripping reality.”
Boston Globe
“[Brown] tells the tale with a novelist’s touch.”
"At sunset, we crossed Truckee Lake on the ice, and came to the spot where, we had been told, we should find the emigrants. We looked all around, but no living thing except ourselves was in sight. We raised a loud hello. And then we saw a woman emerge from a hole in the snow. As we approached her, several others made their appearance, in like manner coming out of the snow. They were gaunt with famine; and I never can forget the horrible, ghastly sight they presented. The first woman spoke in a hollow voice, very much agitated, and said, 'Are you men from California or do you come from heaven?' " The story of the ill-fated 1846–47 Donner Party, in which 39 people died and many of the survivors resorted to cannibalism, has been told many times before. In this penetrating book, Daniel James Brown explores the wagon train tragedy through the life of one young bride who survived this terrifying ordeal.
Mary Roach
The Indifferent Stars Above is an ideal pairing of talent and material. In Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, Brown showed himself to be a deft and ambitious storyteller, sifting through the copious and often conflicting details of dozens of survivor and eyewitness accounts to forge a trim, surging minute-by-minute narrative. He takes more side trips here with snow than he did with fire. In almost every chapter, he steps away from the events at hand to provide historical or medical context. With a few exceptions, it's engrossing stuff…Brown isn't a showy writer, and that's probably for the best. With tragedy of this scale, an unadorned telling of the events speaks loudest.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

In April 1846, as young newlywed Sarah Graves departed her Illinois home on a journey to California, she could not foresee the misery and horror that awaited her. After numerous delays on their difficult westward path, she and her family found themselves dangerously behind schedule as winter loomed, and they decided to join an ill-fated wagon train under the leadership of George Donner. Ending up snowbound and starving in the Sierra Nevada range, the Donner party descended into cannibalism, a well-known and grisly episode of pioneer history. Given a fresh and intriguing telling here thanks to the supple, readable, and well-researched narrative by Brown (former managing editor, Microsoft Corp.; Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894), Graves's dark tale is engrossing and appalling in equal measure. Never melodramatic or maudlin, Brown's work gracefully balances graphic depictions of extreme privation with humanizing glimpses of the emigrants' everyday hopes and fears. Brown also skillfully weaves relevant historical, cultural, and scientific information into his chronicle, creating a rich and contextualized background. Likely to appeal to true adventure and history fans, who may also like Frank Mullen's The Donner Party Chronicles, this work is strongly recommended for larger public libraries.
—Ingrid Levin

Kirkus Reviews
Brown (Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, 2006) delivers a skillful, suspenseful study of the Donner Party, narrated from the point of view of a newly married woman. In April 1846, 21-year-old Sarah Graves embarked with her family and new husband, 23-year-old Jay Fosdick, on a wagon-train migration to California from Steuben Township, Ill. Armed with Lansford Warren Hastings's newly published The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California, they set out with other families, unaware of how disastrously perilous Hastings's "shortcut" to California-via Wyoming to the south end of the Great Salt Lake and then through the impassable Wasatch Mountains-would prove. Burdened by their heavy loads, the parties moved slowly and faced increasingly dire conditions such as parched land, limited water, deteriorating sanitary conditions, Indian raids on their cattle and indecision regarding which way to go. Snow began falling in late October when they reached the cliffs of the Sierra Nevada. Halted at Truckee Lake, those able to walk-including Graves-were determined to make a pass over the mountains and find help, while the mothers and small children stayed at the lake camp. Starvation, hypothermia and dementia plagued both groups, and at some point the wanderers decided to eat the bodies of the dead, including Graves's father and husband. Some even conspired to kill those still alive, such as the two native Miwok boys who accompanied them. Of the 87 "official members of George Donner's company," 47 died, mostly men. Wading through the many previous accounts of the ill-fated journey, Brown creates a thorough and unique narrative. A moving man-against-nature tragedy that stillresonates today.
From the Publisher
"Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy. . . . But he tells the tale with a novelist's touch." —Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061348112
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/22/2015
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
337
Sales rank:
49,379
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Irvin Molotsky
“A compelling retelling of the ghastly events surrounding the Donner party. Daniel James Brown, using one survivor’s experience as his focus, moves beyond the cardboard figures depicted in previous accounts and shows how the lucky few endured and survived.”
Nina Burleigh
“In this gripping narrative, Brown reveals the extremes of endurance that underlie the history of this nation, and more than that, of humanity in any part of the world, even today, surviving great peril in search of a better life.”

Meet the Author

Daniel James Brown is the author of The Boys in the Boat and Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. He lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, with his wife and two daughters.

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The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been years since I have found a book that I literally could not pull myself away from. This is it! Daniel James Brown is a gifted author who obviously spent a great deal of time researching not only the Donner Party, but countless other aspects of American life in the mid-1800's, even going so far as to physically re-trace the steps of these courageous pioneers when current weather conditions concurred with those they had endured on their 2000-mile trek to a new life in little-known California. Brown uses, and completely notates, numerous resources to substantiate his historical documentations and uses modern-day forensics and science to bring this tragic story to life. The contents of this book will stay with you as you meet its characters, who Brown transforms from vague names in an American History textbook to real-life families, neighbors, people you might have known in 1846.
BanbaOir More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up expecting little by way of originality given the topic, but upon a friend's recommendation, gave it a chance. This book was a bit slow at first, but pulled me in with every turn of a page, and in the end, I cried for what happened to the lives it brought to life, for despite the span of decades, the emotions shared are, in the end, shared by all of us and easy to feel when written as well as this book has been...well worth reading, even for the high school crowd,...this will forever maintain a place of honour in my library.
TexasReaderTX More than 1 year ago
Much misinformation is unfortunately available about what has come to be known as "The Donner Party." Daniel Brown has done considerable research on what happened to it in 1946-7. If you have time to read only one book on the subject, read this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As did others, I learned about the Donner Party in History classes. Yet, how many of us truly knew the soul-searching and gut wrenching decision these people faced, all in an effort for survival? I venture to say not many of us. Perhaps, it's because merely the mention of "cannibalism" is enough to shut down further thinking. Brown takes an interesting tact to further illuminate the struggles for mere survival the members of the Donner Party faced - Brown has the reader "walk" in the shoes of one of the members, a young gal married days before heading West with her parents and siblings. This, alone, puts a human face to this tragedy. To gain a new perspective and respect for these pioneers, I highly recommend this book, one that does not read like a History lesson. Then, put yourself in the shoes of any of one of the Party's members: What decision would you make merely to survive?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are so many books available on the Donner Party disaster of 1846/1847. If you read only one, this should be it! The Donner Party epic could be a very gruesome and depressing read but the author, Daniel James Brown tempers the gore that one should expect when reading about the Donner Party and fills that void with fact, medical knowledge, and psychological analysis. The reader will feel the cold, feel the pain, and experience the anguish of one Sarah Graves as she struggles to survive. Unlike other books, this book continues with the survivors life story even after the rescue. Five Stars is not enough of a rating for this incredible story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is definitely the most indepth and well researched story about the Donner party. He takes you, via the story and his travels to the places that the party traveled and gives you an insight into the lives of the travelers before their journey started and how they lived out the remainder of their lives. Good story and definitely worth reading.
KayKayNH More than 1 year ago
I remembered little from school history lessons about the Donner Party other than "caught in the mountains" and "cannibilism". This was a very good history of what came to be known as the Donner Party crossing; a very harrowing account, and gives much food for thought. This was a "perfect storm" of events that transpired to create a human tragedy that really could have happened to anyone in that situation. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Indifferent Stars is a riveting account of the limits to which human endurance can be pushed. To anyone who has ever heard tales of tehe Donner party or who thinks they have reached the breaking point it is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a lover of non-fiction, but this is impossible to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would never have read a story about the Donner Party, but I like the author. Was not disapppointed. Really enjoy this "other Dan Brown"; he has a nice way with words, does his research, and puts thing in perspective. Loved "The Boys in the Boat"; glad I bought this one too.
elmwood43 6 months ago
Excellent read. More like a novel than non-fiction. Lots of background on the story - how stress, cold, fear, hunger, affect our bodies. The author not only researched the facts involved, but also travelled the same trail that these pioneers took. I came away with a profound respect for their strength and determination. I'm not sure any of us today could begin to live the lives they did. I could barely put the book down.
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csheryl More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book immensely; it is a compassionate and detailed account of the Donner party's history from the time they left the Midwest, until their harrowing ordeal in the Sierra; and tells stories of the survivors who were rescued. Writer includes personal reflections as he retraces the path of the pioneers, which I found compelling and endearing.
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Most of us who have traveled to the West are familiar with Donner Pass. This book is an eye opener and a must read for anyone to understand the history of the development of the West.
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