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Desperate Passage

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  1,193 ratings  ·  193 reviews

In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year's westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion

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Published January 28th 2008 by Oxford University Press (first published February 4th 2007)
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Chrissie
Jun 05, 2012 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Lynne
Shelves: audible, bad-trip, bio, usa
An excellent reportage of the travail of this doomed trek. All the where, when, who, why and how questions are, if not definitively answered, thoroughly analyzed. Some questions still today cannot be conclusively answered. Over the years opposing views have been voiced. Who were the real heroes, who the villains and who the cowards? Why did this expedition go so tragically wrong? The push westward to Oregon and California over the plains and the mountains during the years of the 1840s-1860s, a 2...more
Sabrina Resendiz
Ethan Rarick's Desperate Passage, tells us, with much detail and historical evidence, the story of the Donner Party, a large group of families including the Donner and Reed families who take upon the perilous journey to have a better life. This book is set America, late 1840s, when many families sought to travel to the recently acquired land of California. Traveling West for a better shot at life is not easy for the Donner Party since the land hasn't been thoroughly explored and the Natives with...more
Deirdre
When we think about the Donner Party, most of us think about just one thing -- the horrible tragedy that resulted in cannibalism. In this beautifully written, and quite emotionally engaging account, so much more is revealed -- the range of personalities involved in this story, the complex motives that propelled them forward, the role of fate and the difference a single action or decision might make. The Donner Party episode is also so much more complex than I imagined -- we think today that if w...more
Mimi Vo
This book takes us back to 1846, a time where there were no such things as smart phones and automobiles. It tells us about a group of nearly 90 emigrants who attempt to make a long journey westward to California with the hopes of acquiring a better future and easier living. This group, known as the Donner Party consisted of men, women, and many children. At this time, many Americans were traveling westward with the intentions of fulfilling their "Manifest Destiny" which is the philosophy that Am...more
Linda
After driving over Donnor Pass on my way to California, I was curious about the Donnor Party, what really happened? I had read a book in high school about it, but forgot most of the facts.
Searching on my nook later at the hotel, I came across Desperate Passage.
I really like the way Ethan Rarick researched the whole story, the book starts at the beginning of the Donnor Party journey and tells the whole story. Many things lead to the end result, delays, poor advice followed, pride and lack of know...more
Cindy
This is one of the best books I've ever read!

I couldn't put it down. It truly brought history to life. And I found a couple of wonderful heroes to look up to.

The first half of the book takes you into the lives of people on the westward trail. You learn about individuals who were drawn to take their families to a new land out west. Then you see what life was like upon the wagon trail and the decisions they had to make along the way. It's a very engaging account.

I found myself wondering how *I* wo...more
Susan
Good, quick, easy read about the tragedy of the Donner Party and I guess more accurate than previous books on the topic, though it seems less detailed (and much shorter) than other books on the topic. I still prefer Stewart's Ordeal By Hunger-- it really did a better job of giving the reader a full understanding of the severe trials the emigrants faced not only at their winter at the lake, but almost from Day 1 of the trip (the horrific crossing of the Great Salt Lake desert, for instance). Desp...more
Krysten
A fairly light read for such a horrifying topic.

This may be overly picky of me, but I hate it when nonfiction books get into "reasonable speculation" (as the author of this book calls it in the Author's Note). This book has a lot of relevant but unimportant speculative "details" about, for example, how a certain person loved riding horses and feeling the wind whip through her hair. Unless there's something from a primary source to back up that sort of detail, I really don't care.

At any rate, th...more
J.M.
When I started this, I wasn't sure what to expect. My knowledge of the Donner Party tragedy was mostly based on heresay and a horribly morbid movie called "Cannibal: The Musical."

I thought this was an excellent introduction to the events that unfolded in the winter of 1846 in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Much more emphasis is placed on the journey itself and the people in the party than on the atrocious events that occurred that winter. While the subject matter isn't for the squeamish, this book...more
Jenny Maloney
A good introduction to the Donner party tragedy -- but it seems like some sections are sped through because there's a lack of detail. This book reads more like a summation of the other books that have come before it: McGlashan, Stewart, Hill, etc. There aren't any real new insights or POVs added.

But if you've never read anything about the Donner party, this is a good place to start. It covers all of the general bases and does have a few additional pieces of information regarding our current und...more
Paula
While I have read other books on this subject, they all seemed to focus on the obvious desperate acts the Donner Party is known for. This book took the journey from the beginning, detailing finely the members of the party, as well as the journey, and the uninformed men who led them to their desperate ends. Nowhere have I seen such detail as here. One gets to know all the families involved, person by person, child by child, wagon by wagon. The reader understands why they did what they felt they h...more
Shelli
This well written book seemed to be well researched as well. I finished it, realizing that that we will never know everything about this harrowing incident because of a mixture of truth and misinformation spread about this event afterward. What's even amazing to think about is how some of these survivors went on to lead relatively normal lives afterward. What would I have done? Would I have survived?
Kelley
Going into it I wasn't excited and prepared myself for being bored. The first few pages were rather rough on me, due to my attitude towards the experience I began to think I was going to have. Though, getting further and further into it I just couldn't put it down. Ethan Rarick told an exciting journey that was mostly factual. The holes between each traveler's diary entries were filled in with events that were perhaps the true thing. Nothing was farfetched or ridiculous. Each family was carefull...more
Heather
This book was amazing! It really was able to capture the mood of the time and also the trip of the Donners. As soon as I HAD to put the book down I couldn't wait to pick it back up. The author was able to pick me up out of my living room and drop me into the 1840's during the time of westward expansion!
Bridget
The best book I've ever read about the Donner Party - and believe me, I've read a few. The story of the ill-fated wagon train is already gripping, and this book manages to tell it without being sensational or lurid. There is so much more going on here than (alleged) cannibalism.
Sarah Risner Gilpin
This book is so informative and interesting about the Donner party. It's a book that is hard to put down and it tell so much history and what all these people went through from beginning to end. If you are interested in stuff like this I would defiantly recommend it.
Jennifer
The unimaginable retelling of the journey from Missouri to California in 1846. Mr. Rarick introduces us to the members of the Donner party, making the pilgrims as real as we are. I won't complain of being cold again.
Dawn Brady
If you love history, then you would love this book! Doesnt harp on the horror of their situation, but looks deeper into it.....
Dianne
While visiting the Emigrant Museum, site of one of the Donner Party's cabins, near Lake Tahoe I picked up this book. I, of course, had heard about the tragedy of the Donner Party, but this book provided so much more background on their entire journey, ill-fated almost from the start. Fascinating reading about these early pioneers and their willingness to undertake a 2,000 mile walk to a try to find a better life. There was so much they did not know about the trail and a number of bad decisions l...more
Julie
This book tells the story of the Donner party well. I like that it begins with what brought the various participants to that point in time, rather than focusing solely on the terrible hardships suffered in Donner Pass. It's a fast read, and a fascinating story. I also liked the very extensive background, and emphasis on how dangerous and perilous the journey was under even the best of circumstances. It certainly puts the ease and luxury of modern life in perspective.

All in all, a well-told and w...more
Kilian Metcalf
The Donner party had to work hard to create the situation that culminated in their frozen isolation in the Sierra Nevada mountains during one of the worst winters ever to hit the region. There were several decision points along the journey that offered options that would have resulted in a successful conclusion. Instead, at every fork, they chose the option that would lead to the disaster that overtook them. I'm not sure what the lesson is to be drawn from this other than to take the advice writ...more
Jenn Raley
I was quite impressed with this book. The story starts at the beginning of the westward journey, describing in great detail the conditions of the trip across the American west from Missouri and onwards. Well-documented are each fateful decision made by the Donner Party that slowed down their journey and led to their entrapment in an early winter storm in the high Sierras. This takes the reader halfway through the book, and then the narrative slows down to describe the tenacious escape attempts a...more
Kristel
On route to California stranded in the deep, freezing blanket of snow, following bits and pieces of a rumored short cut, with few supplies, ill-equipped, and uneducated on how to survive the rugged winter wilderness of the West; No rescue in sight while watching family members, children, and husbands die each day from fatigue and hunger. While stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this is the predicament of the Donner Party toward the later part of their crisis during the winter months of 1846....more
Terri
I first learned the history of the Donner Party when, as a little girl, my family took a summer road trip through the Sierras over Donner Pass and stopped at the Monument site. I’ve always felt a sense of awe and reverence standing in a spot upon which, in an earlier era of history, a great triumph, sacrifice, or tragedy occurred. Perhaps that childhood exploration of the Donner Monument and surrounding environs served as a catalyst for planting in my consciousness an awareness of the concept of...more
Joanne
Prior to reading this book, my only recall of The Donner Party was learning in high school history class, about how these families became trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for months, having to live off the flesh from those who died.

Author Ethan Rarick discusses this journey in his book Desperate Passage, how the Donners, Reeds, and other parties ended up in this situation, what they did to survive, and how ultimately the fortunate were rescued. This book is a fascinating read because it r...more
Evan Kelly
 "Desperate Passage" by Ethan Rarick is a tragic adventure story that tells the tale of a caravan of more than 150 people moving west in search of a new life but are halted by the harsh conditions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 


 Rarick did a fantastic job on writing this novel. One reason this is said is because he incorporated the use of imagery in his book to help readers experience the horrifying story that occurred in the mid to late 1800's. He used different adjectives to help the readers'
...more
Shamaree
I wish goodreads had a half star, I think I would give this 4-1/2 stars, just because 5 stars is for the best of the best of the best but it certainly deserves more than 4 stars. I drove over the Donner pass a few weeks ago with my mom, and before we ascended, we stopped in the Emigrant Trail museum/gift shop. I brought several books to the cashier and asked her which she would recommend. WIthout hesitation, she chose this one. I really enjoyed the book, and found the history completely compelli...more
Eve
Fourteen years ago, a friend and I shakily crossed the Sierra Nevada in an age-battered Toyota, nervously watching the dials on the dashboard as we ascended. Around Donner Summit, we got out and took pictures. Even though it was July, there was snow at our feet.

Today, I marvel at our remarkable ease, and my mind boggles at the plight of the pioneers who attempted that crossing some century and a half before my own journey.

We all know cursory information about the Donner Party: pioneers got stuc...more
Grace
I could not put this down. I have been fascinated by this story since I first saw the special on PBS as a kid. Generally interested in the West and its development, this book was well rounded in its presentation. In the end, he also wrote about the aftermath of those who had survived, including the rescuers and other related/important people in the story, up to the dedication of the memorial at the site.
The author also kept himself out of the story telling, (own relations, related experiences),...more
Amy
This is one book that I wouldn't hesitate to call "amazing". The subject matter was truly ghastly at times. Before reading this book, I had only a vague idea of what happened to the Donner Party - just what I got out of a cursory reading on Wikipedia.
The author did an amazing job of being balanced and informational. He didn't dwell on the horrible conditions, but he also didn't gloss over them.
My original goal in reading this book was not only to learn more about the infamous Donner Party, but...more
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