The best books on Lewis and Clark

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

The Books I Picked & Why

The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness

By Clay S. Jenkinson

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.


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William Clark and the Shaping of the West

By Landon Y. Jones

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.


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The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

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

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.


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

By Robert B. Betts

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.


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

By Stephen E. Ambrose

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.


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