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The Indifferent Stars Above

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,595 ratings  ·  359 reviews

“An ideal pairing of talent and material... Engrossing.” —Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

"Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy... but he tells the tale with a novelist's touch." —Boston Globe

Reminiscent of Into Thin Air, Miracle in the Andes, and the works of Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato) and Douglas B

Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published (first published April 28th 2009)
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It’s not often that a history book will compel me to set all my novels aside, but “The Indifferent Stars Above” certainly did. Within the first few pages I was spellbound. I had to know how Sarah, a young woman newly married to her childhood sweetheart, would end up on top of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the dead of winter, starving and forced to do unspeakable things in order to survive.

“The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride” tells the story of the Donner Par
There are some books that make you want to run outside, open your arms to the sky, and twirl in the cool breeze and sunlight… And there are some books that desperately make you want to stand with your fridge door open, in your heated/air-conditioned house that does not have bugs falling through the roof, with all your curtains shutting out nature, staring at all your processed food, and marveling that you don't have dysentery. I am not sure that I will able to play the Oregon Trail so callously ...more
Having ancestors who made the trek from Illinois to Oregon at about the same time as the Donner Party, I was especially interested in this book. As a college student, I explored some of the mountains around the Columbia Gorge at different times of the year so I thought I had an appreciation of what the conditions might have been like. After reading this book, I understand how completely I wrong I was. Brown discusses the lack of privacy, personal hygiene, warmth, food, water, shelter and love ag ...more
This is the harrowing story of The Donner Party's trek westward in 1846 that ends in tragedy as it gets caught-up in a wave of snow storms in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The books details their incredible suffering during this time, including cannibalism. The courage of the stranded and starving people is unbelievable, but true. Daniel James Brown does a great job telling the story of the group's 1500 mile plus journey to California. A feature of the book I really found interesting is Brown's m ...more
Paul Pessolano
This book is a historical account of the Donner Party. I have to admit that I have been fascinated by the Donner Party since I was in high school. It is a harrowing account of families trying to get to California in 1846.

This account is a little different in that it does not focus on the Donners, but another family that was traveling in the party. Franklin and Elizabeth Graves, their married daughter Sarah, her husband, and their eight children left Illinois on their fateful journey. The story r
May 26, 2009 Roxanne rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who liked good historical non-fiction
Recommended to Roxanne by: New York Book Review
This is one of the best books of the year. How can I describe this book? I really wasn't looking forward to it, but the New York Book Review gave it flying colors so I figured I would give it a try. I have read it in 3 days - and I have really develped a bad habit of quitting a book if I have read 100 or so pages and it's just not going anywhere or it's too much like all the others. But this is one original, honest, ingenious novels I have really ever read in this genre. The writer applies conte ...more
My wife says that I have an unhealthy fascination with the Donner Party. I don't know whether or not my fascination with that particular immigrant group is unhealthy, but I will admit to the fascination--ever since I first read George Stewart's classic "Ordeal By Hunger" in the 8th grade. The whole story has such a "Perfect Storm" feeling about it. So much went so wrong. How could one group of people have such bad luck? Part of the fascination may have stemmed from having grown up in the Wasatch ...more
Ori Fienberg
Do you remember playing Oregon Trail in middle school? God, I loved that game. You earned some outrageous score for completing it as a school teacher, but I think I only managed that a couple times. Beating it as a banker was a foregone conclusion. You just bought extras of everything wagon related, lots of ammo, and made your party the maximum size. Sure, Mary-Ann, Todd, and Uncle Biff were almost certain to get lost, come down with malaria, or get bit by a snake, but if you had enough people i ...more
Toni Miranda
Having read the Hiding Place I saw the stark difference two groups of people can have to the same tragic circumstances. Corrie and her sister faced starvation and turned to God. The Donners and others turned to killing and cannibalism. The author cites studies that supposedly prove that people will always become carnal and devilish in these situations, but I have heard and read enough to know that is not true. I do believe that without strong faith, people can and often do resort to evil in orde ...more
Okay, I don't think I need to read anything else about the Donner Party! The book is thorough and you learn a lot not only about this ill-fated expedition but about frontier life in the 1840's, psychological and physiological stress, effects of hunger, etc. Brown is a thorough researcher but strains too hard (for me) in trying to imagine the mind of the recently-married Sarah Graves, whose family is also on the expedition. There are a good number of families, characters, encampments to follow--m ...more
This is a hard one to rate. How can you like a story that is so unbelievably horrific? The author obviously did a great amount of research and overall, I was continually engaged in the book, although he often tangents into other historical facts of the time and place. Those breaks in the storyline were actually a welcome relief to the relentless account of cold and death of the Donner Party. I learned a lot and this book prompted me to look up more information when I finished, which is always th ...more
What was it like to be a pioneer seeking a better life in 1846? Read The Indifferent Stars Above to find out. It is the numbingly painful tale of families moving west and the horrors of the road.

I don't know how many of you played the computer game Oregon Trail, but it was all the rage when I was in elementary school. You'd pick your family members, head off with a wagon, a number of oxen, yokes, supplies, etc. Then, you'd head off on the Oregon Trail, praying for balmy conditions as you travel
I didn't expect to like this book, but it was what my book group was doing when I was first invited to join. I thought it would just be ghastly and gruesome with the tales of cannibalism, but instead it was more about telling a story of the journey from beginning to end. I also expected a novel, but found instead a history with some overlay of imagined dialogue and feelings developed by the author after extensive research and physically traveling over the land the party covered, mostly in the sa ...more
Jenny Karraker
When we go to restaurants, my children will often give our name as Donner and then laugh when the Donner party is called (though sadly, most of the time the hostesses don't recognize the name). After reading this book, I don't think I'll do that any more. This story seems much too tragic to make light of it nowadays. Being told from the point of view of the new bride Sarah and her husband Jay gives it an extra realism as you think about their dreams and aspirations for a new life together. It wa ...more
Finally, a really great read! First one I’ve had for a few months—and it’s non-fiction! I saw Brown speak at Powell’s a while back – 2009? (Thanks, Jessica!) I’ve been interested in reading the book ever since, & I highly recommend it. Brown brings history to life in this book about the Donner Party, a group of 87 individuals who set out from the mid-west to California in 1846, and spent the winter of 1846-47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains. As starvation and cold took over their mi ...more
Lana Gerber
Although the subject of this book is very sad and sometimes painful to read, it is exceedingly well researched. In particular I enjoyed the research that attempts to give the reader an accurate feel for the experience of crossing the west as a pioneer. Particularly I enjoyed information on food, clothing, women's responsibilities, childbirth, and probable interactions between men and women. Very interesting. One area that I wish had been addressed: There were many babies and toddlers. What did t ...more
I confess I've long had a morbid fascination with the Donner Party, caught in early snows in the California mountains in 1846 and driven to cannibalism to survive. How could it happen? This is not a detailed recreation of those events, rather it's an intriguing history and the author's quest to discover the fate of Sarah Graves, on this trek westward with her new husband and her family. So it's biographical, true adventure, history, as well as a social history, since Brown successfully places us ...more
Susannah Carlson
I've read just about everything there is to read about this little slice of history and nothing comes close to this book. Brown weaves in a huge amount of research on the economic, physical, meteorological, psychological, and other factors that converged to cause these emigrants' tragic fate. When people think of the Donner Party, they tend to go straight to the more gruesome aspects of their story, but I think it is more important to remember the genuine heroism, courage, and triumph that many ...more
Wow! I did not know the story of the Donner party and whenever I mentioned to someone that I was reading about it they would say, "oh no! It's really gruesome!"

Well, (spoiler) they were right. But I felt this book was well written and very carefully researched. It you ever thought the idea of pioneering was romantic, you probably should read this book. That'll set you straight.

Brown wrote this book prior to his best-selling "Boys in the Boat." With his amazing knack for research and detail, it's a harrowing account of the Donner party travails in their trek to California. I couldn't stop listening to the audio version and hated leaving my car while it played. That said, it is agonizing. I cannot fathom why people even tried to go west and how they endured the trips, even without the horrible events that the Donner party encountered. It's a story of true heroism. The j ...more
I recently read Brown's The Boys in the Boat and on the strength of that book, decided to give this one a try.

Maybe someone more fascinated by or familiar with the Donner party would be able to follow this, but it felt overloaded with information. I wish it had simply focused on Sarah Graves. Instead, there was such an array of people involved, it was near impossible to keep track of them all. I wouldn't say it was poorly written; just not the book for me.
I've had this book on my to-read list for over 6 years now - can't believe it took me so long to finally read it! I knew the general story of the Donner Party but didn't know much about it in detail, so I'm quite glad to have now read this book.

The author obviously did quite a bit of research to put this together, focusing on a young woman, Sarah Graves, who headed out as a newlywed on the Oregon Trail with her family and some other parties before taking a terrible "shortcut" and getting strand
Anyone with an internet connection can go and see the Wikipedia pages and original journal and read the events of the tragedy of the Donner Party. If you want to understand them, however, you need this book.

In covering the before, during, and after, the author points the reader to the reasons behind each decision and each event that led up to both the Party's entrapment in the Sierra Nevadas and their deaths themselves. Sprinkled in at opportune moments to explain what is going on is a discourse
K.Z. Snow

The horrific tale of the 87-member Donner Party and their tragic 1846-47 trek to California is one of the most effective "whine coolers" a chronic complainer can read. All in all, this account is riveting, although the title is misleading. The "Donner Party bride" is no more or less a significant figure than others who played roles in the "saga."

And what a saga. Crossing half a continent to get as far as Truckee Lake was onerous and harrowing enough. But the real horror began with a sudden
Nineteenth century U.S. history is rich with tales of hardy Americans abandoning their East Coast and Midwestern homes to seek a physically and financially healthier future in the west. Many found the inconveniences they suffered and risks they took to be well worth it. Others were buried along the desolate trails, the victims of disease, accident, murder... and starvation.

The Indifferent Stars Above is the harrowing story of the ill-fated Donner party. During the vicious winter of 1846, the Cal
I'd never read anything about the Donner party and found most of this book fascinating and horrific and interesting. However, throughout the book, the author goes into waaaayyyy too much detail about, for example, the history of funerals, or the physiological explanations of hunger, or the minutiae of the weather patterns that led to the crazy storms of 1846 in the Sierra Nevadas. I did love the title, though; a title means more to me than it should. It comes from a Yeats poem called "A Dream of ...more
Holy moly! My husband got this as a publishers review copy (unedited), so I checked it out last month. A VERY well-written look at what it must have been like to be part of the Donner Party.

Using old records and letters found in archives, census records, and published accounts, Brown tells a heck of a story. You keep hoping the end will turn out better for these people, yet you see them making awful mistakes (the first being not leaving St. Joseph Missouri by Mayday, and the second being the ta
This is a Goodreads "First Readers winner" book!
This was a comprehensive book about the Donner Party, the pioneers which in 1846 set out from Illinois to California and the hardships/horrors that they faced. I only knew a few basics about this story before reading this book. At times the "voice" of this book varied from being one of the pioneers; an interested observer; or a present day narrator. The subtitle is a bit misleading - although the Donner Party Bride (Sarah Graves) may have been the
Fabulous read! In my own little fiction-centered universe, gripping non-fiction like this doesn't exist much beyond the scope of Krakauer. This compelling telling of the plight of the Donner party gripped me by the nape and kept me reading for a day and a half, with breaks only for bodily functions and very bad parenting. Brown's telling, with well placed additional information and stories, should be required reading for US history, adding true depth and humanity to the oft-told story of early a ...more
I'm pretty sure I spent most of this book either shaking my head in disbelief at how hard pioneer life was or thinking "Oh. My Gosh. This story could not possibly get any worse!" And then the story promptly did get worse. What these pioneers went through is absolutely horrifying and yet the story is absolutely compelling at the same time. I learned quite a bit about trail life, California history, domestic life and attitudes in the 1840s as well as how trauma impacts people physically and mental ...more
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Daniel James Brown fell in love with the written word when he was five and his mother first read Danny and the Dinosaur to him. Since then he has earned a BA in English from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA in English from UCLA. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University and now lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, where he writes nonf ...more
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“Aghast at their predicament, Parrado fell to his knees in the snow and took in a staggering realization. Death was the rule, life the exception. Life was at best a transitory dream, set in a universe that was entirely indifferent to his fate. Whether to cling to that fragile dream, Parrado realized then and there, was up to him as it is up to all of us, moment by moment. Whether to embrace what we are all thrust into, squealing with astonishment and rage, or to fall back into the comfortable, dark, quiet realm of the insentient. Nando Parrado decided to fight for the dream. Charles Stanton, it appears, after all his heroic efforts to aid his fellow travelers, had chosen to slip back into the darkness.” 0 likes
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