Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

Hello Reading Challengers!

How did your reading go in July? Did you read something wonderful set during the time of Westward Expansion?

I set out to read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Real world disclaimer here: I haven’t finished it yet. But – but! – not because I didn’t like it – in fact I’m loving it! It’s just that other obligations got in the way. I have every intention of finishing it and soon. I’m about a third of the way through, so here are my impressions so far and why I’m loving it so much.

Undaunted Courage is about Lewis and Clark’s “voyage of discovery” when they crossed the western half the North American continent, beyond the known frontier. Before their journey, most of the information about the land was made up of myths and legends and less-than-reliable reports of itinerant fur trappers.

The book opens with an in-depth look at Meriwether Lewis’ youth and upbringing in Virginia where he managed his family’s plantation. He also served in the militia and then worked as an aide to the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson who was a neighbor back in Virginia. I had not realized how well Jefferson and Lewis knew each other, and how much they worked together. At first, already pressed for time, I had planned to skim this part of the book, thinking it would be dull but it isn’t! It’s fascinating! It shows the unique circumstances that shaped Lewis, what they taught him, how they influenced his life viewpoint and how one day they would prepare him for this great adventure. It is also a eye-opening insight into how and why the Founding Fathers thought and operated. It’s like reading about the building blocks of this new nation that would become America.

Jefferson, President, diplomat and political strategist, was also an enthusiastic amateur scientist. He wanted to create friendly relations with the Indians and find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, but he also desperately wished to find out what the land was like – the soil, the weather, the plants and the animals. Jefferson, like most scientists of his day, believed that mastodons still roamed the land, that there were active volcanoes and that the mountain range between the Mississippi River and the Pacific was no higher than the Appalachians.

Lewis was the perfect choice to lead the expedition and Jefferson undertook to teach him as much science as possible before he left including astronomy, rudimentary medicine, botany, preservation of specimens and map making. Lewis engaged an army friend William Clark (brother of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark) as co-commander and, after a great deal of planning and several setbacks the Corps of Discovery set off.

I’ve just read to the part where they will make their first winter camp, about six months into the journey. They have encountered the Sioux and other tribes, have already discovered many new species of birds, animals and plants and have seen sights never before known to white Americans. Lewis writes about flocks of carrier pigeons so numerous they block out the sun, of the great migration of buffalo, elk and antelope – something not seen by a living person for 100 years now, plentiful game and fruit, endless rolling prairie under a sea of grass. I try to imagine what they must have seen, the wildlife, the endless prairie untouched by fences or roads and am awed (I also think about the difficulty of traveling where there are no roads, no hotels, no GPS and progress on a good day was 30 miles and am grateful to living in the present.)

It’s kind of a cliffhanger that I’ve left it at – after this winter camp they will venture into truly unknown territory – so yes, I look forward to reading the rest of this adventure. What about you? What adventure did you read about this month?



4 thoughts on “Online Reading Challenge – July Wrap-Up

  1. My book pick for July was Woman of Courage by Wanda E. Brunstetter. I was so looking forward to this month because I love reading books – fiction and nonfiction – exploring westward expansion! I thought this would be a great fit because I’ve been interested in learning more about the Quakers lately and the main character is presented as such.
    Sadly, I was disappointed in my choice this month. To be honest, the only thing that kept me reading to finish the book was this reading challenge! I did not care for the authors depiction of Native Americans or Quakers. Both were presented in what I felt to be a very stereotypical manner and there was not much depth to the characters for the reader to gain a better understanding of either culture. I haven’t read anything else by this author but know she is popular, so I will leave it at the notion that it just wasn’t my cup of tea!
    Onward to August reading!

  2. How disappointing! What is worse for a reader than a book that doesn’t deliver? You’re very good to stick with it – I would have bailed early on! I hope August makes up for this with a great book for you. Thanks for reading along with the Challenge!

  3. My choice for July took me two months to read. Not because the book was overly long but because I hit a busy spot in life. For July I chose One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. The book was based on the fictional journals of May Dodd who was released from a mental institution in exchange for her agreement to become the wife of a Cheyenne Indian. It was proposed at the time that the white government would exchange 1000 white women for 1000 horses in order to assimilate the Indian’s into the white man’s world thus bettering relations between the two groups. The journals tell of her and other women’s adventures with the Cheyenne tribe. This was such an interesting concept to me and I really enjoyed the story. Parts of it were funny, parts were exciting and dramatic, and other parts were horrific in nature. The author has written a sequel in the series called The Vengeance of Mothers: The Journals of Margaret Kelly & Molly McGill. It is available as an eBook through the DPL and I am going to dive into that one very soon!

  4. Life has a way of messing with the best laid plans, doesn’t it? I’m glad you were able to finish the book in your own time. It sounds like a fascinating read – it’s going on my TBR list! Ann

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