The Barnes & Noble Review
Stephen Ambrose's widely acclaimed Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West is the definitive account of the most momentous pioneering effort in our nation's history the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A distinguished historian, Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information to provide a colorful and realistic backdrop for this journey as seen through Lewis's eyes.
On an adventure spanning three years and traversing the North American continent, Lewis and his expedition confronted incredible hardships and extraordinary revelations. With the help of his partner, Captain William Clark, Lewis made the first map of the trans-Mississippi West, documented unusual species of fauna and flora, and established America's claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The paperback edition of Undaunted Courage features two new chapters on Lewis's work as an ethnologist, focusing on his documentation of the Shoshone, Clatsop, and Chinook Indians tribes never before seen by white settlers.
Drawing from Lewis's private journal, Ambrose follows the explorer's footsteps from hisyouth and close relationship with Thomas Jefferson through his ventures into vast, wild, and breathtaking lands to his ultimate depression, despair, and suicide. With Ambrose's meticulous research and luminous prose, Undaunted Courage provides a broad social overview of the young American republic and keen psychological insight into an exceptional individual.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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
It has been 30 years since the last biography of Meriwether Lewis (Richard Dillon's "Meriwether Lewis: A Biography", 1965). Ambrose (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
School Library Journal
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
From the Publisher
KEN BURNS "Stephen Ambrose is that rare breed: a historian with true passion for his subject. Here he takes one of the great, but also one of the most superficially considered, stories in American history and breathes fresh life into it. Lewis comes alive as we've never known him."
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS "Only Stephen Ambrose, with his love of the Northwest and his deep understanding of the American past, clould have written this luminous and lyrical book. Undaunted Courage is at once a tale of mythic proportions, a poignant human drama, and an essential piece of our history that allows the reader to be a silent and fascinated passenger on the fateful journey of Lewis and Clark."
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."
Read an Excerpt
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. 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.
Lewis was born in a place where the West invited exploration but the East could provide education and knowledge, where the hunting was magnificent but plantation society provided refinement and enlightenment, where he could learn wilderness skills while sharpening his wits about such matters as surveying, politics, natural history, and geography.
The West was very much on Virginians' minds in 1774, even though the big news that year was the Boston Tea Party, the introduction of resolutions in the House of Burgesses in support of Massachusetts, the dissolution of the Burgesses by the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, and a subsequent meeting at Raleigh Tavern of the dissolved Burgesses, whose Committee of Correspondence sent out letters calling for a general congress of the American colonies. In September, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, and revolution was under way.
Lord Dunmorewas a villain in the eyes of the revolutionaries. He was eventually forced to flee Virginia and take up residence on a British warship. But in January 1774, he had done Virginia a big favor by organizing an offensive into the Ohio country by Virginia militia. The Virginians goaded Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes into what became Lord Dunmore's War, which ended with the Indians defeated. They ceded hunting rights in Kentucky to the Virginians and agreed to unhindered access to and navigation on the Ohio River. Within six months, the Transylvania Company sent out Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap to the bluegrass country of Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the British government, in the Quebec Act of 1774, moved to stem the flow of Virginians across the mountains, by extending the boundary of Canada south to the Ohio River. This cut off Virginia's western claims, threatened to spoil the hopes and schemes of innumerable land speculators, including George Washington, and established a highly centralized crown-controlled government with special privileges for the Catholic Church, provoking fear that French Canadians, rather than Protestant Virginians, would rule in the Ohio Valley. This was one of the so-called Intolerable Acts that spurred the revolution.
Meriwether Lewis was born on the eve of revolution into a world of conflict between Americans and the British government for control of the trans-Appalachian West in a colony whose western ambitions were limitless, a colony that was leading the surge of Americans over the mountains, and in a county that was a nursery of explorers.
His family had been a part of the western movement from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson described Lewis's forebears as "one of the distinguished families" of Virginia, and among the earliest. The first Lewis to come to America had been Robert, a Welshman and an officer in the British army. The family coat of arms was "Omne Solum Forti Patria Est," or "All Earth Is to a Brave Man His Country." (An alternate translation is "Everything the Brave Man Does Is for His Country.") Robert arrived in 1635 with a grant from the king for 33,333 1/3 acres of Virginia land. He had numerous progeny, including Colonel Robert Lewis, who was wonderfully successful on the Virginia frontier of the eighteenth century, in Albemarle County. On his death, Colonel Lewis was wealthy enough to leave all nine of his children with substantial plantations. His fifth son, William, inherited 1,896 acres, and slaves, and a house, Locust Hill, a rather rustic log home, but very comfortable and filled with things of value, including much table silver. It was just seven miles west of Charlottesville, within sight of Monticello.
One of the Lewis men, an uncle of Meriwether Lewis's father, was a member of the king's council; another, Fielding Lewis, married a sister of George Washington. Still another relative, Thomas Lewis, accompanied Jefferson's father, Peter, on an expedition in 1746 into the Northern Neck, between the Potomac and the Rappahannock. Thomas was the first Lewis to keep a journal of exploration. He had a gift for vivid descriptions, of horses "tumbling over Rocks and precipices," of cold, rain, and near-starvation. He wrote of exultation over killing "one old Bair & three Cubs." He described a mountain area where they were so "often in the outmoust Danger this tirable place was Calld Purgatory." One river was so treacherous they named it Styx, "from the Dismal appearance of the place Being Sufficen to Strick terror in any human Creature."
In 1769, William Lewis, then thirty-one years old, married his cousin, twenty-two-year-old Lucy Meriwether. The Meriwether family was also Welsh and also land-rich -- by 1730, the family held a tract near Charlottesville of 17,952 acres. The coat of arms was "Vi et Consilio," or "Force and Counsel." George R. Gilmer, later a governor of Georgia, wrote of the family, "None ever looked at or talked with a Meriwether but he heard something which made him look or listen again." Jefferson said of Colonel Nicholas Meriwether, Lucy's father, "He was the most sensible man I ever knew." He had served as commander of a Virginia regiment in Braddock's disastrous campaign of 1755.
The Lewis and Meriwether families had long been close-knit and interrelated. Indeed, there were eleven marriages joining Lewises and Meriwethers between 1725 and 1774. Nicholas Meriwether II, 1667-1744, was the great-grandfather of Lucy Meriwether and the grandfather of William Lewis. The marriage of Lucy and William combined two bloodlines of unusual strength -- and some weaknesses. According to Jefferson, the family was "subject to hypocondriac affections. It was a constitutional disposition in all the nearer branches of the family."
Despite William Lewis's tendency toward hypochondria -- or what Jefferson at other times called melancholy and would later be called depression -- Jefferson described his neighbor and friend as a man of "good sense, integrity, bravery, enterprize & remarkable bodily powers."
A year after their marriage, William and Lucy Lewis had their first child, a daughter they named Jane. Meriwether Lewis was born in 1774. Three years later, a second son, Reuben, was born.
In 1775, war broke out. Jefferson noted that, when it came, William Lewis was "happily situated at home with a wife and young family, & a fortune placed him at ease." Nevertheless, "he left all to aid in the liberation of his country from foreign usurpations." Like General Washington, he served without pay; going Washington one better, he bore his own expenses, as his patriotic contribution to his country.
Meriwether Lewis scarcely knew his father, for Lieutenant Lewis was away making war for most of the first five years of his son's life. He served as commander of one of the first regiments raised in Virginia, enlisting in July 1775. By September, he was a first lieutenant in the Albemarle County militia. When the unit integrated with the Continental Line, he became a lieutenant in the regulars.
In November 1779, Lieutenant Lewis spent a short leave with his family at Cloverfields, a Meriwether family plantation where his wife, Lucy, had grown