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Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness

Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness
Author: Thomas P. Slaughter
ISBN 13: 9780375700712
ISBN 10: 375700714
Edition: N/A
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2004-02-10
Format: Paperback
Pages: 258
List Price: $15.00

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.

The New Yorker

"The looming mist, the shout in his breast, the wordless awe. But that is just it: wordless. A crash of white filling his ears and I! I! I! as he flew down the cliff." The grandeur of the Great Falls of the Missouri overwhelms Meriwether Lewis in Brian Hall's novel I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company, which deftly re-creates Lewis's journey with his partner, William Clark, across the new Western territory. Lewis is sensitive and insecure, suffering from self-recrimination as he tries, and fails, to meet President Jefferson's eccentric demands -- to find a mammoth, Welsh Indians, and, of course, the Northwest Passage.

More insidious motives emerge in Seduced by the West, Laurie Winn Carlson's examination of the political plotting that surrounded the expedition. Carlson speculates that Thomas Jefferson may have intended to provoke war with Spain or establish a separate, Republican nation in the West. Jefferson, perhaps unknowingly, colluded with spies and traitors, and he may have coldly planned to sacrifice his former secretary: "Perhaps Jefferson did not even wantLewis to arrive on the Pacific coast. What he may have wanted . . . was a martyr."

Whether Lewis and Clark ever arrived didn't really matter, argues Thomas P. Slaughter in Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness, noting that the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie had made the overland journey ten years earlier and that traders had already begun to penetrate the territory. Slaughter writes, "It is really quite marvelous that Lewis and Clark were able to sustain the fantasy of controlled, objective 'discovery' so long and in the face of so much evidence to the contrary."

(Andrea Thompson)