The best books on Lewis and Clark, their lives, and the impact of their expedition

Larry E. Morris Author Of The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers After the Expedition
By Larry E. Morris

Who am I?

I was browsing a bookstore around 1996 when I spotted a book about Lewis and Clark. I took a look, saw a list of the members of the expedition, and realized I hardly knew anything about those individuals. I wondered who they were and what happened to them during and after their trek across the country. I started reading books and articles and making trips to conventions or archives in places like St. Louis and Philadelphia. It has been a great twenty-five years, and my passion for Lewis and Clark has never ebbed. I hope you enjoy the books discussed here as much as I have.


I wrote...

The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers After the Expedition

By Larry E. Morris,

Book cover of The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers After the Expedition

What is my book about?

The Lewis and Clark Expedition ended in 1806, and the last surviving member died in 1870. In the intervening decades, expedition veterans witnessed the momentous events of the nation they helped form—from the War of 1812 to the California Gold Rush to the Civil War. Some of them went on to hold public office; two were charged with murder. Many could not resist the call of the wild and continued to adventure forth into the frontier.

Engagingly written and based on exhaustive research, The Fate of the Corps chronicles the lives of the fascinating men—and one woman and one child—who opened the American West.

The books I picked & why

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The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness

By Clay S. Jenkinson,

Book cover of The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness

Why this book?

This thoughtful, compelling, 442-page essay by humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson is simply my favorite Lewis and Clark book. Clay begins with a quote from Hamlet, and in the next few pages mention everyone from Lewis—“an eccentric, high strung, and sometimes-troubled man” but also “a man of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity” to John Donne, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong, to Lennon and McCartney. This is a highly personal, highly readable, free-ranging volume that offers new and fascinating insights into both Lewis and Clark and their westward trek. I highly recommend it.

The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness

By Clay S. Jenkinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Character of Meriwether Lewis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meriwether Lewis commanded the most important exploration mission in the early history of the United States. Clay S. Jenkinson takes a fresh look at Lewis, not to offer a paper cutout hero but to describe and explain a hyperserious young man of great complexity who found the wilderness of Upper Louisiana as exacting as it was exhilarating.

Jenkinson sees Lewis as a troubled soul before he left St. Charles, Missouri, in May 1804. His experiences in lands "upon which the foot of civilized man had never trodden" further fractured his sense of himself. His hiring William Clark as his "partner…


William Clark and the Shaping of the West

By Landon Y. Jones,

Book cover of William Clark and the Shaping of the West

Why this book?

The versatile Landon Jones is a former editor of People magazine and the author of Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, but it is his biography of Clark that really thrills me. This book combines solid research with vibrant, engrossing prose that is always a pleasure to read. You get to know the intriguing—and sometimes enigmatic—William Clark before, during, and after the expedition.

William Clark and the Shaping of the West

By Landon Y. Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked William Clark and the Shaping of the West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1803 and 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark cocaptained the most famous expedition in American history. But while Lewis ended his life just three years after the expedition, Clark, as the highest-ranking federal official in the West, spent three decades overseeing its consequences: Indian removal and the destruction of Native America. In a rare combination of storytelling and scholarship, bestselling author Landon Y. Jones vividly depicts Clark's life and the dark and bloody ground of America's early West, capturing the qualities of character and courage that made Clark an unequaled leader in America's grander enterprise: the shaping of the…


The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

By Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Members of the Corps of Discovery

Book cover of The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

Why this book?

Gary E. Moulton is a history professor who spent twenty years editing the 13-volume journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, written by the captains and four of their men, describing in amazing detail the three years and one month they spent together. Moulton and his team not only transcribed all of these accounts—they offer informative footnotes that explain everything—from the Indians encountered to the plants and animals seen on the journey to the mountains and rivers traveled. So, it is no surprise that Moulton is the expert on the Expedition. Us Lewis and Clark afficionados own and love all 13 volumes, but this single volume is perfect for anyone interested in reading—and understanding—what the men themselves experienced.

The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

By Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Members of the Corps of Discovery

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lewis and Clark Journals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following orders from President Thomas Jefferson, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from their wintering camp in Illinois in 1804 to search for a river passage to the Pacific Ocean. In this riveting account, editor Gary E. Moulton blends the narrative highlights of the Lewis and Clark journals so that the voices of the enlisted men and of Native peoples are heard alongside the words of the captains. All their triumphs and terrors are here-the thrill of seeing the vast herds of bison on the plains; the tensions and admiration in the first meetings with Indian peoples; Lewis's…


In Search of York: The Slave Who Went to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark

By Robert B. Betts,

Book cover of In Search of York: The Slave Who Went to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark

Why this book?

While the early death of Meriwether Lewis is one of the tragic events related to the Expedition, no story is more poignant than that of York, William Clark’s slave, who was one of the twenty-eight men who made the complete journey from St. Louis to the Pacific coast and back. In many ways, this touching book tells the story of slavery itself, covering such topics as York’s fine service on the Expedition, his youth as a slave to the Clark family, his marriage, his falling out with Clark, his demotion from body servant to hired-out slave, his forced separation from his wife, his eventual freedom, and his understandable failure in the freight business—in a world where freed slaves were viewed with considerable suspicion. The sad heritage of slavery thus left its mark on the Expedition, just as it did the entire history of the United States.

In Search of York: The Slave Who Went to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark

By Robert B. Betts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The sole African American member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, William Clark's enigmatic body servant York has inspired numerous myths about his character and exploits. He was supposed to be a man of superb physique and stamina, and some believed that he clowned and womanized his way across the continent and made no significant contributions to the outcome of the Expedition. More often than not, reputable historians have assumed that these myths surrounding him were reliable portrayals of the first black man to reach the Pacific Ocean.

First published in 1985, Robert B. Betts' unique account of this long-obscured…


Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

By Stephen E. Ambrose,

Book cover of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Why this book?

This book, by historian Stephen Ambrose—a key advisor for Ken Burns’ 1997 documentary on Lewis and Clark—is the most popular book about the expedition ever published and the perfect companion to Moulton’s abridged volume of the Lewis and Clark journals (number 3 above). Undaunted Courage is both a biography of Lewis—who died by suicide three years after the Expedition—and a history of the expedition. If you don’t know much about Lewis and Clark, don’t worry—this book is the perfect place for the general reader to start. Ambrose, who died in 2002, called his writing and research a labor of love, something evident in every line.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

By Stephen E. Ambrose,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Undaunted Courage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chronicle of the two-and-a-half year journey of Lewis and Clark covers their incredible hardships and the contributions of Sacajawea.


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