The Indifferent Stars Above
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The Indifferent Stars Above

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  880 ratings  ·  265 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...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
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
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
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
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...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...more
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
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
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...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
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
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
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...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...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.

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...more
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
This book is hard to categorize. Is most certainly is fiction, historical fiction and an amazing blend of other disciplines to tell a story of survival that most people already they know about. Daniel Brown is certainly an urbane, almost academic writer who obviously is well read and very precise with facts.

The story begins in Illinois, where in the 1830's there were catastrophic reasons why someone might leave the security of a know livelihood for a chance for a new beginning. The near collapse...more
Joshua Kriesberg
This is another beautifully written book by Daniel Brown, author of Boys in the Boat. He writes with meticulous detail the experiences of those in the 1840s who traveled to California and Oregon, leaving their homes and everything they knew behind them. His main focus is a recently married woman, who is 21 when she starts this journey. One of the things that I most enjoy about Brown's writing, is that once you pick up one of his books, they are so hard to put down. I can read 300 pages of Brown'...more
Before reading this book, I was only vaguely aware of the Donner Party, which had only been mentioned in passing in one of my high school history books. Of course, most of what I knew (and, likely, most of what the average American knows) about the Donner Party is that they had to resort to cannibalism to survive after being snowed in during a mountain crossing. There is a lot more to the story than just that aspect, and the author covers it well.

The author follows the entire ill-fated Donner P...more
Jessica Sawinski Couch
Delving into the infamous Donner Party is not a topic to be taken lightly. Author Daniel Brown succeeds in not trivializing the events that unfolded in the Sierra Nevada and not sensationalizing them either. He approaches the subject from the points of view of those who were there, primarily 21-year-old Sarah Graves, giving them a voice and giving them the chance to speak of their experiences. And his personal connection only strengthens the care taken in exploring this history.

While it would be...more
This wasn't exactly what I expected (and possibly am still waiting for) - a novelization of the events of the Donner party, told from one of the young women's perspective. However, this is a factual account of those events, told from one of the young women's perspective. The information seems to be sourced very accurately, and the account is an intriguing look at one of the darker sides of human nature. While the author does have a personal tie to the story, he seems to be trying to maintain a s...more
Becki Kula Hildrew
I don't even know why exactly I bought this book. I've never really been drawn to American history/historical events. But holy crap this book was absolutely fantastic. Could not put it down. Read it in just two days.

It was like the novel version of that old Oregon Trail game. Except more people eating. And a whole lot of tangents involving info on daily life, politics, family dynamic, etc., of 1840s America. Great book.
Marika Alexander
I absolutely loved Daniel James Brown's book The Boys in the Boat so when I realized that he had written some earlier books, including one about the Donner party, I was eager to read it. Like The Boys in the Boat, he includes lots of contextual information about the time period and attitudes/mores. He focuses on one of the members of the Donner party, young newlywed Sarah Fosdick who embarks from Illinois with her new husband Jay Fosdick, as well as her parents and numerous younger siblings. The...more
Jill Myles
So this started out slow, but then once they got on the road, it went CRAZY from there. Fascinating. I couldn't put it down. There was definitely a sense of impending doom that made me keep reading late at night. I totally recommend if you're interested in frontier life, cannibalism, or historical disasters. This definitely qualifies.
Trudy Somers
I could not put this book down. The author is a relative of one of the survivors and perhaps that makes this all the more impactful. Giving us the POV of a new young bride and how she survived gives new meaning to "the honeymoon phase"! Wow, truly it is Providence and sheer will power that allowed anyone to survive. I thought it was really great that the author added historical references and information to help put all events in perspective. I have seen the movie, Meeks Cutoff, and it is mentio...more
Feb 12, 2014 April rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to April by: Jan Birlem
I didn't want to put this book down, what a page-turner. I've lived near this event for over twenty years and even visited the museum, yet it failed to impact me the way this writer did! Although he didn't achieve his exact goal of telling the story of the Donner party through the eyes of Sarah Graves, it didn't diminish the quality of research, writing, or colorful detail. At times the author waxed on poetic, but again it didn't detract from and otherwise well-written narrative of a well-covere...more
Like most people, I am aware of the bare facts of what happened to the Donner party, but not the total story. I picked up Daniel James Brown's "The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride" to find out the real story.

The book was successful in laying out the difficult times the Donner Party faced as it attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada through a difficult pass at the wrong time of year. The writing was clear and concise and told the story well.

What I didn't like abo...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
More about Daniel James Brown...
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