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Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  44,148 ratings  ·  2,277 reviews
'This was much more than a bunch of guys out on an exploring and collecting expedition. This was a military expedition into hostile territory'. In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a pioneering voyage across the Great Plains and into the Rockies. It was completely uncharted territory; a wild, vast land ruled ...more
Audiobook, 512 pages
Published (first published 1996)
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AJ As with most historical non-fiction, the reader's enjoyment depends entirely on the level of interest he/she has in the subject matter. Does it get…moreAs with most historical non-fiction, the reader's enjoyment depends entirely on the level of interest he/she has in the subject matter. Does it get better? Yes, insofar as the story reaches its goal of completing the tale of the Lewis and Clark expedition. As for the grammar and spelling errors, I believe you must be referring to the author's use of quotes from Lewis, Clark and other characters in the story, all of whom were terrible spellers by today's standards.(less)
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4.22  · 
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 ·  44,148 ratings  ·  2,277 reviews

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This is an expansion of my past micro-review reflecting on a read from 2008:

Very satisfying read about the Lewis and Clark expedition, with a focus on Lewis and his relationship to Jefferson. To me it's great because of Ambrose's ability to render a great story while marshalling his skills in making sense out of the myriad of known historical details and context. He brings alive so many of the times the expedition almost met disaster due to bad judgments or naive approaches toward Native America
The oddest little historical fact that has stayed with me from reading this book is the squirrel migration. At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, there were apparently so many squirrels in this country, that the squirrels migrated seasonally like birds. Lewis and Clark witnessed them in large numbers swimming south across the river on which they were traveling. It was such a surprising and delightful little piece of information I had never known about before. It gives the reader a windo ...more
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: learnin-books
Lewis and Clark... the actual story.

This is the ultimate adventure. A bunch of dudes, in totally uncharted territory, trying to to make it there and back alive.

What I loved:

-it shows Indians both good and bad. Some Indians were incredibly gracious to the party. Others complete manipulative jerks. All of them wanted guns, all of them wanted tobacco, and all of them really really wanted whiskey. And they gave away their women for anyone to boink. I had too romantic a view of indians before this b
J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Lewis and Clark expedition is one of the most fascinating aspects of American history. Ambrose does an impeccable job of chronicling the journey, as well as details before and after the adventure. This book can be a little hard to stick with, so I opted to switch off between audio and print. That seemed to harness my attention better. 12 years later, I continue to dwell on the historical knowledge I gained form this incredible story. Highly recommended.
Bob Mayer
Perhaps I'm tainted by revelations about the author's techniques that were revealed late in his life. But also, understanding what really happened on this journey, makes me think that without the Native Americans, Lewis & Clark would have never made it over the mountains, never mind making it back.

They were incredibly lucky. And the author focuses primarily on Lewis.

It's a good over-view of the journey, pulling together various sources, but it seemed whenever Ambrose had to really get you i
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
First I want to thank Michael for suggesting I read this book. I really did like it. A definite four star read. Who doesn't know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806, and of Sacajawea?! Years ago I had read Sacajawea, which I loved! Yeah, it is a door-stopper, but you don't want it to ever end. The two books did tell the same story about the expedition, but they focus on different people. Anna Lee Waldo’s book is historical fiction. It focuses primarily on Sacajawea and the expediti ...more
SJ Loria
Mar 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To do list - Defend “pop history,” talk about America

I was on the phone with a history major friend of mine and I told him I had just finished Undaunted Courage. He chuckled and told me Stephen Ambrose is a “pop historian” who isn’t really worth reading. Well I asked him, when was the last time he had read a research paper or PHD thesis for fun? There exists a needless divide between academic writing versus accessible, interesting yet informative writing. The divide exists because of the attit
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whenever I travel, I like to read something related to the area I'm visiting. I took a trip down the Columbia River from Richland, WA to Astoria. A historian on board gave lectures about Lewis and Clark, so I picked this book up. Whenever I read history, I'm amazed at how unschooled I am. I had a vague notion of what these explorers did and where they went, but Ambrose provided the context and framework I needed. I've been reading a lot of Revolutionary War era history lately. After reading Hami ...more
I've been weighing up whether or not to read this again, that I feel some resistance to journeying up the Missouri to the pacific coast again in its company probably rules against it, perhaps I might have had a higher regard for it had I not first read Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization, which although it only touches on Lewis and Clark was I felt far more interesting in its discussion of the context of their mission - Jefferson's vision of America and i ...more
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves history and the courage displayed those who explored this great land, America
I have really enjoyed reading the notes made by Merriweather Lewis, and his relationship with his partner, William Clark. These were two men who really had "undaunted courage" and faced new challenges unknown to all others as they daily across this vast continent and to the Pacific Ocean and back again. This book tells about the relationship of these two men, apparently without conflict, or little, if any in the course of their exploration. In reading this book you can also learn about the many ...more
Barnabas Piper
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ambrose is as clear a historical writer as there is. The account of Lewis & Clark's preparation and then journey is outstanding. The lengthy description of what happened after was less so, but mainly because I was not interested in their publishing disputes and the like. Over all, this is a wonderful account of one of the most significant adventures in American history.
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history lovers
I'm almost done with the book. Great. New insights. Learned about who Sakajewea (sp?) was and actually think she is a bit over rated. But that is beside the point. I learned a lot about Thomas Jefferson, the politics of the time, the trip to the Pacific and back (naturally), and the way this country was.

Interesting factoids contained in the book:
Squirril migration
Eating Dogs, Horses, roots and enjoying them

Enjoy. It is a great book!
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Undaunted Courage gets 4.5 Stars. Stephen Ambrose brings a special passion to this tale of exploration. Ambrose relates in the foreword, his lifelong fascination and exploration of the Lewis and Clark adventure. I like how he brings all the characters, Lewis, Clark, Jefferson, various Indian chiefs, members of the “Corps of Exploration” and many other participants to life. Perhaps Ambrose exaggerates some events but he tells a riveting tale. The Lewis and Clark expedition was as significant to t ...more
Feb 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
If I could give President Jefferson one plank his party was good for it has been American expansionism. Thomas Jefferson was a neighbor and good friends with Merriweather Lewis’s father. When Jefferson became President one of the first things he wanted to do was discover what lay west of the original colonies. With this he wanted to find a water route to the pacific, collect species for science, to extend commerce and to make an American claim to the Oregon country. After Napoleon sold the Louis ...more
Linda Hart
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's incredible trek West to discover an all water route to the Pacific Ocean is certainly one of the most American stories ever. Ambrose has written a detailed account of the courage, determination and resourceful self sufficiency displayed by these men and their companies to complete the expedition, giving great attention to the science, geography and their everyday life on the journey. This was a wonderful, informative and highly enjoyable read.
Apr 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs and Ambrose admirers
This biography of Meriwether Lewis must have been a daunting task and Stephen Ambrose was certainly up to it.

The sections of the book covering the Lewis and Clark Expedition are as well written as anything Ambrose has done. I felt like I was there with the "Corps of Discovery", as they were named, seeing the incredible plains and mountains of the unexplored American West for the first time.

I am familiar with some of the country and have actually stood at Three Forks in Montana where the Missouri
Jason Pettus
I've always had a particular fascination with the Lewis & Clark Expedition, because of being born in raised in St. Charles, Missouri, the town where the expedition technically launched; so I'm glad I've finally had a chance to read this influential overlook at the trip by famed historian Stephen E. Ambrose. This is pretty much what you would expect from such a book, so I don't have too many analytical things to say about it; it's well-researched and well-written, especially when it comes to ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
A grand adventure and Ambrose’s narrative invites the reader to join in. As we turn the pages we become part of Lewis and Clark’s journey into the unknown. What will the next turn of the river bring: violently cascading waters, pensive Indians eyeing their first white man, a foreboding mountain, a snarling beast. This book was fun because the reader, at least this reader, did not know what to expect any more than they did.

That these were brave, confident and resourceful men one has no doubt. As
Even though practically everyone I know read this book when it was first published in 1996, I didn't give it a glance because "I already knew the story!" Oh me of little consequence and great ignorance.

I grew up in Fort Benton, Montana, and as a youngster had spent countless hours in the children's room of the Carnegie Library under the statue of Sacajawea, choosing books, dawdling, daydreaming; I stood at Decision Point (in a tiny patch of poison ivy - argh!) where Lewis and Clark had to determ
Randy Lowe
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a nagging feeling during most of my reading of this book, that Stephen Ambrose was annoying to me. I can't quite articulate why, and the story itself was so interesting that it didn't become a real problem. I also never quite felt oriented properly - this was for a lack of detailed maps and poor synchronization of the maps which were included to the specific geographical references in the book. You were constantly going back and forth to try and find a river or a region, which often was mi ...more
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to gabrielle by: farm boy
Shelves: history, adventure
This took me forever to read. Not because it's a bad book; quite the contrary. I loved it. It's well-written and has excellent footnotes and maps. There's just SO MUCH information in here, and I got frustrated with it and was like "OH FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, LEWIS AND CLARK, WOULD YOU JUST GET HOME ALREADY?!" and then they get home, but there's still more story because there's the whole "what are we going to do with all these discoveries" thing. It really gives you some insight to how they must ha ...more
Scott Middleton
"Undaunted Courage" tells an unforgettable tale with a degree of minute detail that reduces the journey of Lewis & Clark to a level of excitement on par with the user manual and warranty for a fiberglass canoe. Indian fights, harrowing escapes, sexual misconduct, and hilarious misspellings occasionally lighten the mood, but more often than not I found myself wading waist-deep through pages of botanical observations, astronomical measurements, and repetitive schoolgirl adoration of Thomas Jef ...more
Erik Graff
Mar 21, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the western expansion of the USA
Recommended to Erik by: National Public Radio
Shelves: history
I read this, mostly up in NW Wisconsin, instead of reading the actual journals of Lewis and Clark because I was feeling lazy and thought a modern summary would serve as a better, lighter read. Indeed, it is a light read, part history, part travel.
Dec 12, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What these men did was amazing. Still, this book takes longer to read than it did for Lewis and Clark to reach the pacific ocean.
Ted Tyler
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This old Eagle Scout was captivated by every moment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Ambrose relies almost exclusively on the journals of L&C and their men as he makes this epic journey come to life. After completing the book, I can't help but feel that Captain Meriwether Lewis has become an old friend. You spend a lengthy amount of time immersed in his musings and reflections. I admire him for being both a skilled leader, an avid outdoorsman and a dedicated scientist. He truly is one of t ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read. Perfect for the summer, a season during which my family has been hiking and camping in the Pacific Northwest. I often found myself considering how the members of the Corps of Discovery viewed this new region.
Jul 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was very surprised that I found this book as interesting as I did. I have started other non-fiction, historical accounts before and could never get into them because you already know what happens, right? But lately, I have become much more interested in learning more history. It may be learning Idaho history with my fourth-grader or a recent trip to Boston where I tried to learn more about the Revolutionary War so I could teach my kids about it as we were seeing the sights. What I realized is ...more
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps I would have liked this book better if I had known what to expect ahead of time. First and foremost, this book is not the fast-paced adventure story of the Lewis and Clark expedition that I was hoping to read. It is an academic biography of Meriwether Lewis, with particular focus on the expedition (likely because that is the best-documented part of his life).

Academic: The narrative is good in places, but lacks rhythm overall. Ambrose relies far too much on extended, direct quotes from th
Even if you think you know about the Lewis and Clark expedition, trust me, if you haven't read Undaunted Courage, you probably know very little. My idea about the expedition was so narrow before reading this book. There is so much that we just don't think about.

First, what a tremendous undertaking this was. To know they would be gone for years and had to pack supplies for such a trip. They had no idea what would be available to them, and actually did find that there were times when there was ver
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military
This was my first Ambrose work, and I have to say, he isn’t my favorite historian (ignoring the possible plagiarism controversy that I’m just going to ignore). He is a bit dry for my taste. I can handle dry when I think that something is rather fascinating, but he went on at a very slow pace in this novel and coupled with his plain narrative I just wasn’t gripped. That said, his presentation of the information was chronological, informative, easy to follow, and unpretentious. He inserts points t ...more
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Stephen Edward Ambrose was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. He received his Ph.D. in 1960 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his final years he faced charges of plagiarism for his books, with subsequent concerns about his research emerging after his death.

“Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline, intimate with the Indian character, customs, and principles; habituated to the hunting life, guarded by exact observation of the vegetables and animals of his own country against losing time in the description of objects already possessed; honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves – with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him. To fill up the measure desired, he wanted nothing but a greater familiarity with the technical language of the natural sciences, and readiness in the astronomical observations necessary for the geography of his route. To acquire these he repaired immediately to Philadelphia, and placed himself under the tutorage of the distinguished professors of that place.” 6 likes
“Routine wears down vigilance.” 3 likes
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