Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness

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9780375700712: Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness

This provocative work challenges traditional accounts of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition across the continent and back again. Uncovering deeper meanings in the explorers’ journals and lives, Exploring Lewis and Clark exposes their self-perceptions and deceptions, and how they interacted with those who traveled with them, the people they discovered along the way, the animals they hunted, and the land they walked across. The book discovers new heroes and brings old ones into historical focus.

Thomas P. Slaughter interrogates the explorers’ dreams, how they wrote and what they aimed to possess, their interactions with animals, Indians, and each other, their sense of themselves as leaders and men, and why they feared that they had failed their nation and President. Slaughter’s Lewis and Clark are more confused, frightened, courageous, and flawed than in previous accounts. They are more human, their expedition more dramatic, and thus their story is more revealing about our own relationships to history and myth.

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Review:

The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition is one of America's most enduring myths. Of the hundreds of books that have been written on the subject, many perpetuate the heroism of the Corps of Discovery above all else, often at the expense of accuracy. Thomas Slaughter takes a different approach in this fascinating book, choosing to "look beneath the explorers' narrative for different meanings than those they intended us to find," reminding readers in the process that the journals have generally, and mistakenly, been "read as fonts of fact rather than as honed reflections designed for effect." Undoubtedly, some will label this revisionism, but Slaughter sees it as an opportunity to discover what the explorers' true thoughts and experiences were. He explains: "My observations are intended as correctives to our readings, usages, and understanding of the journals, not as a knock on the journalists or what they wrote. All texts are vulnerable to close readings, but explorers' journals are interestingly, revealingly, and essentially so."

Not surprisingly, the myths scarcely hold up to such scrutiny. For instance, Lewis and Clark were not the first white men to travel overland to the Pacific coast, but they often tried to ignore this unpleasant fact by renaming places or landmarks along the way. The importance of "opening the West" is also called into question: "westward movement would have continued without a moment's hesitation had all the expedition members died on the trail," Slaughter writes. He also looks at the lives and roles of Sacajawea and York, Clark's slave, explaining how their status within the group has been exaggerated as a way to make the expedition seem more democratic than it truly was. Slaughter even surmises that the notorious gaps in Lewis's journal and his reluctance to publish it upon their return may have been because Lewis saw the journey as a failure, and therefore felt there was nothing significant to document for posterity.

This book is no exercise in political correctness; rather, Slaughter digs deeply into the available evidence to offer a different perspective on the journey that helped define America, proving that yet another book on Lewis and Clark is not only welcome, but necessary. --Shawn Carkonen

From the Back Cover:

"This book unquestionably establishes Thomas Slaughter as one of the subtlest, most insightful historians writing today. Readers will emerge from this exploration with a new understanding of Lewis and Clark and their famous expedition."
--Thomas Fleming, author of Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America

"Tom Slaughter’s Exploring Lewis and Clark is a sometimes wickedly delightful re-examination of our legend of the Lewis and Clark expedition."
--Kenneth A. Lockridge, author of The Diary amd Life of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674-1744

“[The book] to read first. . . Slaughter marches into the voluminous pages of the journals of the expedition (and the legend that has grown around them) and performs a scintillating close reading, thinking deeply about the attitudes, wishes, and dreams of the men who wrote them. . . Slaughter at his best is wise and observant, even empathetic. . . other chapters, though, delve deep and ask questions that will forever change my reading of these men.”
–Bill Roorbach, Newsday

“A rueful reading of the historical record that delights in considering some of the thorniest questions within it. . . Three million words of firsthand history cannot tell us, but Slaughter gives us some reasonable and altogether fascinating guesses. They could not be timelier. . . and deserve our close attention at the dawn of yet another American empire.”
–Gregory McNamee, Washington Post Book World

“In a provocative new book. . . Thomas P. Slaughter argues that [the mythology of the explorer] was even pursued by Lewis and Clark, neither of whom was what he seemed.”
–Edward Rothstein, New York Times

“Slaughter’s fascinating new book. . . stands on the shoulders of the past century’s scholarship. It also stands some of the scholarship on its head. Where Thomas Jefferson saw ‘courage undaunted,’ Slaughter rediscovers the daunting challenges that inspired both anxiety and valor.”
–John Kukla, Times-Picayune

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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2004. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. This provocative work challenges traditional accounts of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark s expedition across the continent and back again. Uncovering deeper meanings in the explorers journals and lives, Exploring Lewis and Clark exposes their self-perceptions and deceptions, and how they interacted with those who traveled with them, the people they discovered along the way, the animals they hunted, and the land they walked across. The book discovers new heroes and brings old ones into historical focus. Thomas P. Slaughter interrogates the explorers dreams, how they wrote and what they aimed to possess, their interactions with animals, Indians, and each other, their sense of themselves as leaders and men, and why they feared that they had failed their nation and President. Slaughter s Lewis and Clark are more confused, frightened, courageous, and flawed than in previous accounts. They are more human, their expedition more dramatic, and thus their story is more revealing about our own relationships to history and myth. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780375700712

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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2004. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. This provocative work challenges traditional accounts of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark s expedition across the continent and back again. Uncovering deeper meanings in the explorers journals and lives, Exploring Lewis and Clark exposes their self-perceptions and deceptions, and how they interacted with those who traveled with them, the people they discovered along the way, the animals they hunted, and the land they walked across. The book discovers new heroes and brings old ones into historical focus. Thomas P. Slaughter interrogates the explorers dreams, how they wrote and what they aimed to possess, their interactions with animals, Indians, and each other, their sense of themselves as leaders and men, and why they feared that they had failed their nation and President. Slaughter s Lewis and Clark are more confused, frightened, courageous, and flawed than in previous accounts. They are more human, their expedition more dramatic, and thus their story is more revealing about our own relationships to history and myth. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780375700712

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