What's the best book on Lewis and Clark?
July 25, 2007 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What is the most readable account of the Lewis and Clark expedition? I'm looking for something not as dense and dry as a history textbook, but not skimpy on the details, either. I don't mind long books, and in fact prefer them, but I have no desire to wade through "scholarly" writing. I want an entertaining, fact-filled, layman's book that traces the lives and trials of Lewis and Clark and their fateful quest for the Pacific. Of the hundreds out there, which is best?
posted by jackypaper to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: DISCLAIMER: I did not personally read this book, but based on what I have heard, and the author's other work, as well as interviews with the author, I would get: Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.

Ambrose has a way of telling compelling stories. Hopefully a MeFite who has actually read it can come along and give a better opinion. But the link does have a "look inside" link.
posted by The Deej at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have read Undaunted Courage, this is the one you want.
posted by KneeDeep at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2007

I asked my book club leader the same question, and she recommended Undaunted Courage. She knows me well and knows that I enjoy reading history but only if it is written in an interesting narrative. There were about 10 thousand copies of it at Powell's for $7.98 each (they were really pushing it in many sections of the store) when I was down in Portland for the meetup the other week.
posted by matildaben at 1:36 PM on July 25, 2007

I've read Undaunted Courage as well. It was lengthy, but full of interesting details. I'd recommend it.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:41 PM on July 25, 2007

Undaunted Courage is exactly what you're looking for. Given your criteria there really isn't anything better out there.

Ambrose has been criticized for sloppy research and even plagiarism, if that bothers you, and to some his endorsement, more or less, of Manifest Destiny seems a bit récherché. But in terms of making it an adventure worth the story-telling, Ambrose is the one to beat.
posted by dhartung at 1:56 PM on July 25, 2007

Nthing UC. I listened to the audiobook, and found myself taking the long way home on more than one occasion to keep listening.
posted by friezer at 2:26 PM on July 25, 2007

I'd recommend actually reading Lewis & Clark's journals.
posted by mattbucher at 2:36 PM on July 25, 2007

Yep, Undaunted Courage.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:39 PM on July 25, 2007

Response by poster: Looks like "Undaunted Courage" it is, then!

Thanks to all!
posted by jackypaper at 2:55 PM on July 25, 2007

If you are interested, there is an excellent Ken Burns documentary available. Stephen Ambrose, among others, is interviewed. Any time I see him on screen, I find him enthralling.
posted by The Deej at 3:15 PM on July 25, 2007

Undaunted Courage was the first book I read by Ambrose, and the first book I read on this subject, and it totally, totally rocks.
posted by vito90 at 3:49 PM on July 25, 2007

There is a very nice coffee-table-esque companion book to the Ken Burns series that is informative, and contains many nice visuals, too.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:08 PM on July 25, 2007


Type "ambrose plagiarism" into Google for some of the reasons you should not read Undaunted Coourage. At the Lewis and Clark bicentennial events a number of the most prominent L&C scholars refused to share a podium with the man who had stolen so much of their work. And what Ambrose didn't steal he got wrong.

Read Ronda's Lewis and Clark Among the Indians.
posted by LarryC at 5:24 AM on July 26, 2007

Clay Jenkinson, the supremely talented researcher and impersonator of Meriwether Lewis (among others), recommends Lewis and Clark Among The Indians as the single best L&C book to read. It's apparently more comprehensive than the title suggests. (And if Jenkinson ever visits your town, or if you can catch a recording of one his performances on your local cable, do see him. He's primarily a Jeffersonian scholar, but his impersonations of Jefferson, Lewis, Teddy Roosevelt, and other figures are superb and very, very entertaining.)
posted by lhauser at 8:22 PM on July 26, 2007

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