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1 SSr Undaunted Courage:Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen C. Ambrose Simon & Schuster, 1996, 511 pp., $27.50 Long before the Louisiana Purchase , Thomas Jefferson had supported plans for exploring the American West. As the leading American thinker of the Enlightenment, and an amateur scientist, he nourished an active interest in the Louisiana country and was fascinated by the native Americans, the geography, and the flora and fauna of the Western wilderness . When, in October 1803, through an unusual series of events, the Louisiana territory fell intoAmerican hands, Jefferson's plan for a fuU-scale expedition to explore what he had just bought was ready to be launched; eariier that year he had persuaded Congress to secretly appropriate money for such a venture. In December, President Jefferson dispatched his private secretary and fellow Virginian, Captain Meriwether Lewis, along with WUUam Clark, cocommander and younger brother of the noted Indian fighter George Rogers Clark, on what was perhaps the most famous trek in American history. In the spring of 1804 Lewis and Clark and a party ofnearly forty men set out from the frontier town of St. Louis and foUowed the Missouri River northward. Guided by Sacagawea , fifteen-year-old pregnant wife of a French fur trader, they crossed the Rockies into then-uncharted territory and descended along the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the Pacific coast. They were instructed by Jefferson to keep careful journals about aU the plants, animals, minerals and metals that they encountered, and to note all information about native inhabitants, prospects for trade, and viable routes for overland migration . Lewis had been groomed for the job, having undergone crash tutorials in everything from botany to zoology in preparation for the coUection ofsuch diverse data. Hisjournals would stand as perhaps the most undervalued legacy of the expedition (much of their contents would not be published for nearly a century). Although Lewis was haUed as a national hero upon his return to St. Louis in the autumn of 1806, and despite his subsequent appointment as governor of the territory he had charted, failures in his personal life led him to alcoholism and severe depression. He committed suicide three years after his return. In Undaunted Courage, distinguished historian Stephen E. AmThe Missouri Review · 297 brose paints an original and readable portrait of Meriwether Lewis, and traces in vivid detaU the hazardous Odyssey that left an indeUble mark on the American imagination. Drawing on new scholarship, Ambrose focuses on Jefferson's initial motivations for Western exploration. He documents the Lewis and Clark expedition , from its clandestine funding by Congress and the initial preparations—even before the vast territory was purchased—through the perilous journey to the soon-tobe "Oregon Country." Aside from the inherent drama of the trip itself, what makes this book so fascinating is Ambrose's abUity to convey the sense of wonder experienced by the explorers as they encountered people and places never before seen by Euro-Americans. Ambrose also includes a portrait of Sacagawea, the remarkable young Shoshone woman who played a key role as guide and go-between during a critical leg of the journey. FoUowing recent trends in Jeffersonian scholarship, Undaunted Courage not only aids in re-estabUshing Jefferson's importance in American history but stands as an exhaustive and definitive study of Meriwether Lewis and the expedition that whetted American curiosity about the West. Emerson Among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait by Carlos Baker Viking, 1996, 608 pp., $34.95 If Carlos Baker is even half right, America's first philosopher of spiritual self-development and self-reUance was one of the nicest guys in the history of American literature: supportive, kind, gracious, a great listener, generous—at times self-sacrificial in saving some of his more improvident friends from financial dilemmas—a hard worker on the public-speaking circuit (his principal source of income), long suffering toward his semi-invalid wife, kind and loving toward his children, possessed of a sense of humor even regarding his own mental decline in old age ("I am an imbecile most of the time," he wrote). One almost yearns for a thorn in this rose bush. His only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 197-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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