AMERICAN TRAVELER: The Life and Adventures of John Ledyard, the Man Who Dreamed of Walking the World

James Zug, Author . Basic $25 (286p) ISBN 978-0-465-09405-9

By the time he was 37, Ledyard (1751–1788) had sailed across the South Pacific, befriended Thomas Jefferson, challenged a Russian governor to a duel in Siberia and become the first U.S. citizen to touch North America's western coast. Zug (Squash: A History of the Game ) vividly renders Ledyard's remarkable life in this brisk, exciting book. After failing as a divinity student at Dartmouth, Ledyard fled to the sea, eventually volunteering to serve on what would be the legendary Captain Cook's final voyage. It was an eventful trip: Ledyard got a tattoo in Tonga and venereal disease in Tahiti, and helped slaughter natives in Hawaii. Later, still poor, Ledyard drifted to Paris and socialized with Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. They encouraged Ledyard's wildest scheme: to walk across the world, from Europe to America. The failure of this quest—ended by czarist police in Siberia—prompted Ledyard to volunteer for an even more quixotic expedition, into Africa. It was there that he met a "bleak, anonymous ending" in Cairo, dogged by disease and, Zug suggests, a life of disappointment and hardship. Zug draws on many primary sources, including Ledyard's journals and letters. A shameless self-promoter, an enterprising and original American, Ledyard is superbly resurrected in this stirring, tragic tale. Photos. Agent, Joe Regal. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
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