Monday, June 27, 2016

Jefferson's America - By Julie Fenster

Jefferson's America: The President, The Purchase and the Explorers Who Transformed A Nation by Julie M. Fenster is well written and very interesting.  I have heard of Lewis and Clark and knew a tiny bit about their exploration but I have never heard of others who were equally important at the time such as: Dunbar, Hunter, Forest or Pike.  And yet perhaps I had heard of them in school but I didn't keep any memory of them or their expeditions in my head. 

This book is a very intriguing account of how and why Jefferson initiated the exploration westward of what was then a comparatively small U.S., how he made the Louisiana Purchase (and the controversy around the purchase)and how he made it secure and justified his purchase by courting public interest in the expeditions he had sent out.  It mainly focuses on the men whom Jefferson sent out to do the exploring, and their adventures are quite intriguing. Most of the men Jefferson picked for the task of exploring and finding the sources of the Missouri River, the Mississippi and the Red River were very determined, smart and persevering men.  They were determined to keep on with the tasks they had been given despite very low water levels (to the point where they were scraping along the bottom of the rivers and had to drag the boats with ropes), dangers from frostbite, starvation, capture by various enemies and even danger from getting shot accidentally by themselves or their own men (Whenever that happened they still pressed on of course)!  It was almost exhausting just to read about the hardships they went through!  One of the men, Pike, was so determined that he would keep on marching even though  his feet were bleeding but, "Pike didn't stop.  Long into each night, the red grid marks in the snow led to the south." Fenster remarks, "Apparently Pike believed that his body would adjust to whatever his brain could handle - and not the other way around."  I very much admire that kind of determination and discipline.  

I like the style of the book, it really pulls you into the struggles and atmosphere of the time in which these explorers lived. Before I read this book I did not adequately appreciate how amazing it is that America is actually as large as it is, nor did I realize how un-united Americans were even shortly after the war for Independence.  Some of the accounts were a bit awkward, for instance someone goes to meet someone but is told that the person they want to meet with is (I'm paraphrasing with modern lingo) using the bathroom so they need to wait.  It was an actual accounting…I would never have thought that something like that would have made it in someone's diary, but it did!  There were immoral practices that are referenced in the books as well (such as prostitution), and at least one of the guys sent out to survey land wasn't very principled in morals.  So I'd suggest being careful if one is reading this with kids.  But otherwise I think that it is a very intriguing and informative account of a major part of the beginning of the formation of what is now the United States.

Before I end this I just want to mention that I found Fenster's point that the 18th century was a very quiet era compared to ours very interesting.  They didn't have a lot of very loud noises while we experience them all of the time, cars, planes and even music.  She mentions this when she gives Dunbar's account of hearing a waterfall and describing it as the sound of "horrid din of a hurricane in New Orleans in the year 1779".  I had never thought about that before, that our time-period is much louder than the ones before it.  Anyway, this is quite an intriguing history book, it includes maps and pictures in its pages as well!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a free review copy of this book(My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at (among other places):

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