Books by Mississippi Writers 1996-2010
Nonfiction by Stephen E. Ambrose, photographs by Sam Abell National Geographic Society (Hardcover, $35.00, ISBN: 0792270843, 10/1998) Don't expect Ambrose's second treatment of the Lewis and Clark expedition to retread his Undaunted Courage (1996), a huge-selling biography of Meriwether Lewis. An inspection of both books reveals only tiny verbatim repetition, and the cause soon becomes clear: whereas the biography held to the form's stricture that the author be detached from his subject, this photo album proclaims Ambrose's 20-year-long personal obsession (as he puts it) with the epic story. Since 1976 he and his family have spent their summers along the route taken by the Corps of Discovery; some family members have even moved to Montana because of their devotional interest in Lewis and Clark. Ambrose, drawing on his hikes and canoe trips to all the monuments between St. Louis and Fort Clatsop associated with the explorers, melds his memories and own journal entries with a new Lewis and Clark narrative spiced by entries from their journals. Akin to religious pilgrims, Ambrose and companions (including Dayton Duncan and film producer Ken Burns) often re-read passages from those journals at the locale an entry was written, allowing Ambrose to comment on the place's contemporary appearance, whether pristine (Gates of the Rocky Mountains), or altered (the dammed-up Missouri River). The visual difference between Duncan and Burns' Lewis & Clark (1997) and this Ambrose treatment is notable: the former uses nineteenth-century paintings; the latter contemporary National Geo-style photographs of the vistas. Ambrose remarks that his obsession changed his life, and surely his travelogue/tribute will change the vacation plans of some readers as well. Popular, beyond doubt. ―Gilbert Taylor Copyright © 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved.