Book Review: Discovering Lewis & Clark From The Air

Discovering Lewis & Clark From The Air, photography by Jim Wark, text by Joseph A. Mussulman

There is something oddly inappropriate about the attempt this book makes to discover the Lewis & Clark expedition from the air.  It took about a week, and 80 hours worth of flying time, to take the photos necessary to create this book, while it took Lewis and Clark themselves two and a half years from departing the East coast to make the round trip.  Lewis and Clark and their party braved bears, starvation, hostile tribes, rapids, and the ferocious prickly pear, while the authors of this book sat in a plane and snapped photographs of beautiful vistas.  Lewis and Clark helped bring the West to the general knowledge of Americans on the East Coast, harbingers of future travelers, while the author and photographer have collaborated to make a beautiful book that ought to encourage and inform readers, even if it is difficult to imagine the journey taking place in the conditions it did given the fact that the Missouri River, in particular has been dammed and tamed since then.  Even so, this book gives good visuals from the sky about the journey even if the party itself had much different views from the level of someone walking or writing a horse or rowing a boat.

The contents of this book are straightforward, dividing the journey of Lewis and Clark and their associates into five parts, the first part about gathering forces and going from Monticello to Saint Louis, the second part about being on familiar ground from Camp Dubois to the Knife River villages, the third part on mastering the unknown Missouri from Fort Mandan to Lost Trails Pass, the fourth part about the trip over the mountains and down to the sea from Travelers’ Rest to Fort Clatsop, and the fifth and final part about reaching out along the journey home.  The book quotes the diaries of the party members, shows their pettiness and sometimes grudging respect and teamwork.  At a bit more than 250 pages, half of the material taken up by photographs of a particular area, often near a city or town or some gorgeous view like Beacon Rock or Pompey’s Pillar.  The book shows the personalities of the explorers in the Discovery Corps, including their experiences with horse thieves, with trying to counsel patience for themselves, and even destroying wooden implements in order not to help some particularly disliked Oregon semi-desert tribes.

To a great extent, this book succeeds at its modest aims, in informing the reader about some of the travels involved in the Lewis & Clark expedition, providing excerpts from the diaries of the party members, capturing the beauty of the areas traveled by the parties, and discussing the changes between the early 1800s and today largely thanks to various hydrology projects.  The book manages to encourage tourism in the West [1] while also proving itself to be a worthwhile history book, if a lighthearted one that manages to keep a firm grasp on its historical sources and on a sense of place and time.  The end result is a worthwhile one that ought to be well-liked by many readers, especially those who appreciate the photographs of river valleys along the journey between Washington DC and the coast of Oregon, which are immensely beautiful.  The text and photos combine to make this an enjoyable read, even if it looks nothing like what Lewis and Clark saw during their own travels because of the drastic changes to the level and course of the Missouri.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Discovering Lewis & Clark From The Air

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