Stephen Ambrose, who would later write such historical classics as Band of Brothers and D-Day, captures the contradictions of history and the humans that inhabit it through this detailed and gripping account of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition through the previously unmapped expanse of the American Continent West of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
The account is a bittersweet mixture of glory and depravity, wonder and destruction, life and death:
– The wonder and beauty of the American West, tainted by the fact that this expedition paved the way for much of that beauty to be lost forever.
– The thrilling spirit of adventure contrasted with the spirit of imperialism and exploitation.
– The excitement of meeting and communicating with new cultures mixed with patronizing and deceitful motives (not to mention the sexual immorality many members of the expedition engaged in with the Native Americans).
– Lofty and noble ideals undermined by pragmatic compromises.
– Legend tempered by reality.
– Life tragically snuffed out by death.
Ambrose comprehensively places the epic expedition in the broader context of America in the age of Thomas Jefferson. The book follows Merriweather Lewis from a young boy and neighbor of Jefferson, into the army, as the personal assistant to President Jefferson, to the leader of the greatest exploratory adventure since Columbus, to his return to civilization and his tragic and swift downward spiral.
Anyone wishing to understand how thirteen small colonies eventually formed a country that spanned the continent, or how our early American foreign policy was formed or the ideological forces that drove America to become what it is today – for better and for worse – would be well served by this immensely readable book.