Book Review: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Undaunted CourageUndaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

I woke up this morning to the news that Meriwether Lewis had committed suicide, and I could scarcely take it in.

This was the man who had led the Corps of Discovery--30 other men and himself--across the hitherto uncharted North American continent west of Missouri with little more than some gunpowder, dried soup, and some rudimentary navigation equipment now lying dead on the floor after being challenged over a few receipts and a few management decisions as the governor of the Louisiana Purchase.

That's what you get for making walking across a continent with little more than the clothes on your back look easy. That's what you get when the class nerd is also an excellent political sniper.

As a public school student decades ago, I learned that Meriwether Lewis and his buddy William Clark mapped the land that since became the Western United States. End of story.

However, Stephen Ambrose's book Undaunted Courage took this fleeting fact and gave it life and color in wonderfully readable prose that left me feeling I, too, had discovered the American West and named the flora and fauna of that beautiful, challenging, dynamic landscape.

President Thomas Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis for the expedition after educating him in the arts of botany and celestial navigation--after realizing he was the right military mind for such a task.
What neither Lewis nor Jefferson fully understood was how difficult it is for a romantic and poetic yet no-nonsense decision-maker to navigate the intrigues and layered details of political life. Lewis was a solider and explorer; he was not a bureaucrat.

I never knew.

The challenges that Lewis could not surmount coupled with his tendency toward depression cost him his life. However, these facts are mere details that do nothing to dim his contribution to the natural world that is the western United States and to our confidence in our ability to dream big and pursue our dreams—barefoot, if need be.

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  1. So sad
    Suicide is never the answer.
    I guess some people feel they've seen it all and done it all and life becomes uninteresting anymore.
    But for others who learn and learn and learn some more, only to die thinking they have not seen it all or done it all and still have so much to experience and love.
    This is a blessed life.

  2. I have this book on the shelf in Oregon (one of those I couldn't bear to get rid of when we sold out for the RVing life).... we were both born and raised in the twin cities of Clarkston WA and Lewiston ID -- one of the last places L&C stopped.

    I really loved reading the book when we were traveling along the L&C trail in the great comfort of our portable home..and that was during the Centennial Year.

  3. we should never envy another's life-you don't know what they are feeling...

  4. I read this some time ago. It is a good read. It made history much more interesting. There is no explaining depression. You never know what will trigger it.

  5. Sounds like a good read.

    From what I remember the Louisiana Purchase was very controversial in its day.

    Also, I tried to google this quickly but I couldn't find out conveniently, it seems that the expedition went on with very little if any loss of life. That

  6. we all climb our invisible Everest

    Aloha from Waikiki
    Comfort Spiral

    >< } } ( ° >

  7. I am not familiar with this man but you pay a lovey tribute to him. Judging from his endeavors, he must have been quiet an old man by now. Maybe he just knew nothing else awaited him, particularly after having accomplished so much.
    Have a lovely weekend dear Sandy,

  8. How tragic that depression ruled out.
    Depression is a killer that is for ruins so many lives!

  9. I have not read this particular book, but some of the things I have read about Lewis indicated that he was a sort of fragile person before the journey and that some folks who knew him were concerned about Jefferson's choice in sending him. Amazing how the task at hand kept him buoyed. A person would most assume that sitting in a dark dank hut in the dense underbrush of the Pacific Northwest would unravel a person for sure, not civilization.


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