Book review: “Undaunted Courage” by Steven Ambrose
In his book, Undaunted Courage, Steven Ambrose brings to our attention the life history of young Lewis before the expedition to the pacific coast. He gives us an impression that Lewis was an intelligent young boy, an attribute that saw him lead the expedition. According to the author, Lewis’ childhood was promising and his future was bright. He made good choices in his youthful life. The Lewis and Clark expedition was influenced by the relationship between Lewis and Thomas Jefferson, who was a family friend. The author comes up with a summary of the 2000-mile expedition in an amazing prose. During the exploration, Lewis wrote his characteristic voluminous journals expressing their two years joy as well as the mysteries they were experiencing.
President Thomas Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the expedition whose purpose was to explore and discover a northwest route to the Pacific Ocean and opening commercial ties with the inhabitants of the area. Lewis is a perfect choice to lead the expedition because of his military background where he was a captain. Again, it is indicated in numerous instances that he was very intelligent, something that began since he was a small boy. Lewis is presented by the author as a reasonable man with a natural gift in scientific observation. He is even said to have been a skilled and experienced naturalist. These are some of the qualities that made him catch the eye of the president of course considering the two were friends from home. In his troop, the second in command was Lieutenant William Clark, a friend to Lewis who still was a younger brother to an activist and a war general, George Rogers Clark.
The troop went by the name ‘corps of discovery’ and consisted of 30 other recruits. The expedition started in May 1804 and they sailed the river using canoes with others walking on foot along the banks. The leader had strict instructions from the president to keep a journal, which he wrote about the daily events taking place around them. This included daily measurement in latitude and longitude and his scientific observations. As the expedition goes on, a Canadian decided to join the ‘corps of discovery’ with his teenage wife who later on plays a big role in the survival of the voyage. Lewis is disappointed as there is no connection between the river Missouri leading to the pacific so the troop had to traverse through the great falls of the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains. By this time, their food reserves were running low and were forced to trade their horses against foodstuff for survival.
The troop reached the pacific coast in November 1805, were they put up a fort that was named Fort Clatson. The following spring, the expedition having suffered low supplies begun their voyage back. Lewis and Clark however decided to split the troops into two and explore the east and west water routes. At this time, the corps encountered a hostile military engagement but the troops remained intact without losing anyone of them. However, two lives were lost in the attacking community. Upon their return, Lewis and Clark are received back home as heroes and Lewis is appointed as governor. This was the beginning of his troubles since he was not a good politician and eventually he became an alcoholic, as he was depressed. He unfortunately loses his life at an early age of thirty-five years after committing suicide.
Ambrose has used the journals from the expedition and presented the story in a systematic way that reveals the history of Lewis’ background. In my opinion, the presentation of the chronological events that took place in regards to Lewis prior, during and after the expedition is very clear and informative. The author has dedicated his efforts to establish and impart basic knowledge on the details and circumstances surrounding the historic expedition by Lewis. This is an excellent peace of art that I would recommend anyone to read as it is based on the accounts of the historic expedition in the pacific.
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