BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
UNDAUNTED COURAGE: MERIWETHER LEWIS, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AND THE OPENING OF THE AMERICAN WEST BY STEPHEN E. AMBROSE. SIMON & SCHUSTER, 1996. NEW YORK.
LEWIS & CLARK: THE JOURNEY OF THE CORPS OF DISCOVERY, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY. ALFRED A. KNOPF, 1997. NEW YORK.
As a tale of discovery and adventure, Ambrose's book describes one of the greatest expeditions in world history, comparable to explorations of Africa and Antarctica. Every public school pupil learns that the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-06) opened up the American West to trade and settlement. Ambrose gives the reader a detailed, almost daily, historical account of the expedition based upon Meriwether Lewis's journals. But for students of giftedness, Undaunted Courage has even wider meaning as an account of Naturalist Intelligence in action (Gardner, Howard, Gifted Education Press Quarterly, Spring 1997).
The leader of the Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis, was prepared in such areas as botany, zoology, astronomy, scientific survey methods, mapmaking, geology and medicine by leading intellectuals and scientists including Thomas Jefferson (Lewis's mentor) and Dr. Benjamin Rush, a leading physician of his time. The historical part of this book describes how President Jefferson purchased the vast territory of Louisiana from the French government represented by the Emperor of France, Napoleon I. Jefferson wanted to use this territory for the expansion of American power and settlement from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. He directed Lewis and the Corps of Discovery to: (1) determine whether there was a direct water passage (Northwest passage) to the Pacific Northwest via the Missouri and other undiscovered rivers. (Of course, Lewis and Clark went beyond the Louisiana Territory into an unclaimed region that is today Idaho, Washington and Oregon.); (2) contact all Indian tribes along the route of exploration and develop friendly relations with them; and (3) conduct a scientific investigation of the flora and fauna of the northern region of the Louisiana Territory. In addition to Lewis, the Corps included William Clark, who was second in command, fourteen soldiers and nine woodsmen, two French boatmen, Clark's servant, and a Shoshone Indian woman named Sacagawea.
The Corps of Discovery consisted of highly trained and loyal explorers who learned that no such water passage existed. Their voyage up the Missouri River in canoes and specially designed boats was dangerous and obstructed by the then unexplored Rocky Mountains. Indian guides helped them to circumvent these mountains (Bitterroot). Sacagawea served as an interpreter and helped to lead the Corps to the home of her own tribe (the Shoshone) in what is now Montana. During the three and a half years of this expedition, Lewis wrote daily reports of his observations and of the Corps' activities. According to Ambrose, several gaps exit in these journals, one almost a year long, and no one is certain as to why they occurred. Lewis's observations, recorded on a daily basis during most of the expedition, reveal how an individual with exceptionally high Naturalist Intelligence processes and interprets enormous amounts of information. He described in great detail the Indian tribes of the upper Missouri and Columbia rivers including the Teton Sioux, Mandan, Shoshone, Blackfoot, Nez Percé and Chinook. He was not only interested in making peace with these tribes but in understanding their language and culture. His observations of the plants and animals provided naturalists all over the world with accurate and detailed records of the variety of life in this region of North America. Both Lewis and Clark described 178 plants and 122 animals never previously observed by American and European naturalists. In addition, Lewis collected and pressed 240 plant specimens that were returned to and studied by botanists in the United States. Some of the specific animals and plants that Lewis observed were large buffalo herds, elk, beavers, grizzly bears, sage grouse, woodpeckers, condors, pronghorns, coyotes, prairie dogs, and plants such as the Sitka spruce and the vine maple leaf.
The book by Duncan and Burns, Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, provides many wonderful reproductions of the pictures that Lewis drew of these animals and plants. It is derived from the PBS series with the same title and contains many of the same topics found in Ambrose's book, but in a more illustrative format. As Duncan and Burns write, there were many myths about the American West:
"For those who coveted its fabled treasures, however, the bulk of the West remained an immense blank -- a void on their maps and an awesome gap in their knowledge, filled only by rumor and conjecture.
"No one was more anxious to change that than the new President, Thomas Jefferson. Though he had never traveled more than fifty miles west of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Jefferson had always been fascinated by the West. His personal library at Monticello contained more books about the region than any other library in the world.
"Some of them told him that woolly mammoths and other prehistoric animals still roamed there. Others described erupting volcanoes and a mountain of pure salt, 180 miles long and 45 miles wide. On the basis of his reading, Jefferson believed that Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains might be the continent's highest and that somewhere in the West was a tribe of blue-eyed Indians who spoke Welsh, descendants of a fabled Prince Madoc who supposedly had settled in the New World three centuries before Columbus." (Duncan and Burns, 1997, p. 6).
The Lewis and Clark Expedition dispelled these myths by providing President Jefferson and the nation with a more accurate picture of the land west of the Mississippi. The study of this journey is a fascinating way for gifted students to learn about the geography of our nation, Native American cultures, and the many plant and animal species that have inhabited this land. These two books document the great accomplishments that can result from the intense application of Naturalist Intelligence. For teachers and students who wish to study the positive impact of this type of intelligence, Undaunted Courage and Lewis & Clark provide outstanding resources for study, reflection and elaboration.
TRIBUTE TO JAMES A. MICHENER (1907-97): A LITERARY ASSET FOR AMERICA AND THE WORLD BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
"I honestly believe that a nation remains strong only so long as it remains idealist." James A. Michener (quoted in a biography by John P. Hayes, Bobbs-Merrill, Inc., 1984).
We unfortunately do not realize what a treasure we have in a person until we no longer have the privilege of that individual's presence. James A. Michener was one of these types of personalities. In this tribute, I would like to acknowledge what will be missing from the American cultural and literary scene. First, his writing emphasized that ideals matter very much to both the survival of the United States and the rest of the world. He was able to express, through his literature, the concept that one could be simultaneously an American and a citizen of the world. Michener wrote about the United States in such novels as Hawaii (1959), Centennial (1974), Chesapeake (1978) and Texas (1986). He also wrote about other areas of the planet Earth with such books as Caravans (Afghanistan) (1963), The Source (Israel) (1965), Iberia (Spain) (1968), The Covenant (South Africa) (1980), and Poland (1983). In his books about either the United States and other countries, he emphasized the struggle for human values contained in the epic tales of these areas.
A major ideal of James A. Michener was the need for humanity to evolve social environments that promote mutual toleration for multi-cultural and racial harmony. This theme was stressed in his very first book, Tales of the South Pacific (1948), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946. These tales of the historical combat waged in the South Pacific during World War II inspired Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to create one of the major works of the American musical theatre ("South Pacific," 1949). Songs such as "You Have to be Carefully Taught How to Hate" and "I'm a Cockeyed Optimist" were reflective of the motifs contained in this musical.
The second ideal that Michener promoted in his literary works was the importance of ecology for expanding human and spiritual values. In works such as Hawaii,, he describes how geological and ecological developments shape and maintain respect for life and personal dignity. The book Centennial, an epic of the land and people of Colorado, represents the spirit of American values. The destruction of the ecological landscape and the forces of racial bigotry (in this case, Native Americans) are a threat to national ideals. It is noteworthy that one of the present US Senators from Colorado is a Native American, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
James A. Michener's literary style was very deceptive. He had the ability, like all literary geniuses, to make writing look simple. But he struggled very hard to achieve the success of his narrative artistry. He was one of the hardest working writers in the world. His narratives had a universality of the human condition. In his book about the US space program (Space, 1982), the following statement describes his credo: "To Stanley Mott, ideas were the noblest manifestations of mankind, and he felt that in this room, his ideas were not being accorded the dignity that they deserved." (Part IV, p. 382 ). For millions of readers, Michener's credo was an emotion that was mutually cherished and treasured. The literature and life of James A. Michener was a valuable asset for all humanity.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, December 1997-January 1998