THIS VAST LAND: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Stephen E. Ambrose, Author . S&S $17.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-689-86448-3

The late historian Ambrose (The Good Fight) revisits the subject of his adult bestseller Undaunted Courage in this posthumous novel, a fictional diary account of the real-life George Shannon's adventures as the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Seventeen at the outset, George chronicles the dangers, exhilaration, irritations and even boredom of this arduous five-year journey; however, readers unfamiliar with the expedition may require more context than the author provides here. At their best, the entries reveal aspects of George's personality even as they offer vivid, telling snapshots of the epoch (e.g., George reports that Native American chiefs cried while Captain Lewis punished an erstwhile deserter with a whipping: "They admitted the need for Example but in their country they killed a man to show the Example, no one... was ever whipped"; the company is "reduced to beggarliness" when the captains, out of supplies, must trade the buttons from their uniforms for food from the Nez Perce). While most of the writing is similarly incisive, some passages are repetitious and some, unfortunately, inept. Ambrose assigns George a marriage of sorts to a Shoshone squaw, a supposedly pivotal development that occasions an awkward and strangely graphic scene making much mention of George's swelling and jerking "member." Readers may grow frustrated at the unevenness of the narration. Happily, those who find their interest piqued can turn to Ambrose's nonfiction. Ages 13-up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/25/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-8072-1877-8
Hardcover - 287 pages - 978-0-7862-6139-0
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