Tuesday, July 08, 2014

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

I finished reading Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose. When I finished reading the book about Thomas Jefferson in April, I was disappointed at how little it talked about the Lewis and Clark expedition. I felt that I really needed to read Undaunted Courage to fill in the gaps.

As the book's title suggests, this is part of my project to read books about all of the presidents. Thomas Jefferson plays an important part in the story. Meriwether Lewis served as Thomas Jefferson's personal secretary for the first two years of his presidency. Jefferson was instrumental in envisioning the trip and getting Lewis trained in a variety of disciplines. Jefferson was hopeful that the expedition would find an all water route to the Pacific Ocean.

While the core of Undaunted Courage is the story of Lewis and Clark's 8,000 mile and 28 month journey across the continent and back, the book is really a biography of Meriwether Lewis. The book reviews his life from beginning to end. Although I had an outline of the journey in my head, there is a lot about Lewis' life about which I was ignorant.

After the return of the explorers, Jefferson urged Lewis to publish his journals quickly. For reasons that one can only speculate about, Lewis let Jefferson down. He did nothing to prepare the journals for publication. The journals were not published until almost a hundred years later.

I really enjoyed the book. The story of the journey is very compelling. While the last section of the book following Lewis after the expedition drags a little, it is important in filling in his life story. I grade the book a strong B+.

As a sidebar, the book makes an interesting point about communications and transportation. Just as in Roman times, nothing moved over land faster than a horse in the early 1800s. Given the distances involved, it created some substantial communications challenges for United States government in the first half of the nineteenth century.

No comments:

Post a Comment