By Thomas C. Danisi
Prometheus Books, $26.00, 350 pages
This is a very interesting book except the author expects the reader already has a familiarity with the life and times of Meriwether Lewis and so there is no information about Lewis’s life prior to his joining the army. The in-depth and detailed information on Lewis from 1795 to 1809 often reads like a text book for a collegiate course. Lewis proved his mettle early in his army career by acting as his own attorney when he was accused by a superior on false charges. For a 21 year old with no experience in military law, Ensign Lewis “showed great skill” in successfully defending himself at his court-martial. Prior to being selected by President Jefferson to lead the exhibition to the northwest with William Clark, Lewis was working for Jefferson as his personal secretary.
Jefferson said of Lewis, “He is an intelligent officer who possessed the expertise and ability to accumulate the scientific and geographical aspects of the exhibition and later to convert the vast, cumulative data into print.”
Lewis contracted malaria and it would have a profound effect on his health and life until his death at the early age of 35. Throughout his military career and other various governmental appointments and his participation in the Lewis and Clark Exhibition, Lewis was plagued by high fevers, headaches, bouts of delirium, pains in his muscles and bones and body shakes. Theories regarding his death include both suicide and that he was murdered. After much research the author states that in his opinion Lewis did not kill himself on purpose but due to depression and the constant pain and anguish from malaria he acted irrationally and shot himself.
Reviewed by Brian Taylor