The Essential Lewis And Clark, edited by Landon Y. Jones, , read by Peter Friedman and Tom Wopat
What makes these edited Lewis and Clark diary entries of their epic and fateful journey of scientific exploration from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River and back essential? For one, it helps to get some idea of the scope of what is included and what is omitted. Roughly half of the material within the Lewis and Clark diaries is included here, and the book presents itself as offering the highlights, which is an accurate judgment. If you like reading about travels and about the exploration of the American West , and if you have a taste for historically accurate drama as well as find ethnography to be of interest, this is a worthwhile book. To be sure, it is not the full story, and the editor steps in to summarize material that is judged to be lengthy, but if one does not have the time or the inclination to read about 500 pages or so of material to get the full diary entries and letters of Captains Lewis and Clark during the two years of their journey into the unknown, this makes for a suitable abridgment that ought to satisfy as well as inform, and hopefully whet the appetite of the reader or listener for more.
The book is organized chronologically by diary entry, and more or less alternates between periods read by Lewis and Clark, which are helpfully voiced by two different men to differentiate between the two. Given the assignment to explore from the newly purchased Louisiana Territory to the coast of the Pacific along the Missouri River, with the aim of determining if there was some passage directly to the coast, the two men and their party also served to make a strong claim for the United States to the territory they traversed, which became a core part of the American West, setting up a fort along the Pacific coast during their first winter, where they suffered through a miserable and wet period of months. Lewis and Clark show themselves in their account to be brave, honorable, clear-sighted, and unflappable, and gracious to the divine providence they received in their encounters with bullies, thieves, and grizzlies, from which they managed to escape with their lives, contrary to what might have been expected given the perilous travels they made. The story ends as it should, with a letter to Jefferson summarizing the journey, including the items gathered by the explorers, and apologizing for its brevity.
There is a lot to appreciate about this book and about the journey it details. Throughout their travels, Lewis and Clark show themselves to be shrewd observers of the habits of the indigenous people they encountered, if very much people of their own time. They are quick to give a great deal of credit to Sacagawea, who as a Shoshone woman herself was a key member of the party in terms of his translating work, and whose young son was the subject of much of the authors’ solicitude and care. Indeed, one would have a difficult time imagining two better ambassadors for the United States to the tribes of the Upper Missouri and Columbia River basins than Lewis and Clark, two people who better balanced the other and able to retain the confidence and friendship of each other despite difficult travels where they faced violent thieves, nearly single-handedly ended Sioux river piracy, and survived friendly fire incidents while surviving through difficult and unknown country. This is a book still worth reading, even if its ethnography appears quaint by our contemporary standards, not least to show contemporary readers the massive scope and ambition of early Americans in filling up the empty spaces of their knowledge with Americans seeking to make the most of the land that God has given us.
 See, for example: