Undaunted Courage

I’ve recently finished a book by Stephen E. Ambrose called Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. The title itself was adapted from the way the Thomas Jefferson described Lewis a few years after his death.

The book covers the years leading up to the expedition (which gives some great insight into young American politics and lifestyle), with most of its chapters covering the expedition itself, and finishes with a description of Lewis’s death. When Jefferson prepared Lewis for the journey up the Missouri river, it was made clear to him that he had to document everything: scientific information like the plants, animal life, soil condition, position of the stars, terrain and other things like the disposition of the natives, their language, culture, lifestyle, etc.

This is why their journey is so fascinating to read about. There is not a lot of room for fiction here, for both captains Lewis and Clark were journaling themselves. Ambrose was able to report accurately what they saw and experienced because they were disciplined at detailed writing. It also draws a lot of material from the correspondence Lewis, Clark, Lewis’s mother, and Thomas Jefferson had via letters. Life in America was so different just 200 years ago.

This is not a review (I enjoyed it too much to be critical of it). It has a great and tragic end as well. The book was a great read and I’m glad to recommend it. I’d also like to thank my friend Kurt who recommended it to me so many years ago.