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Desperate Passage Audiobook

Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

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Publisher's Summary

In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year's westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion is known: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the most harrowing extremes of human survival. But until now, the full story of what happened--and what it tells us about human nature and about America's westward expansion--remained shrouded in myth.

Drawing on fresh archeological evidence, recent research on topics ranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters and diaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, Ethan Rarick offers an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginable ordeal: a mother who must divide her family, a little girl who shines with courage, a devoted wife who refuses to abandon her husband, a man who risks his life merely to keep his word. Rarick resists both the gruesomely sensationalist accounts of the Donner party as well as later attempts to turn the survivors into archetypal pioneer heroes. "The Donner Party," Rarick writes, "is a story of hard decisions that were neither heroic nor villainous. Often, the emigrants displayed a more realistic and typically human mixture of generosity and selfishness, an alloy born of necessity."

A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, clear-eyed narrative history, Desperate Passage casts new light on one of America's most horrific encounters between the dream of a better life and the harsh realities such dreams so often must confront.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2009 Ethan Rarick; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (463 )
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4.1 (377 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Jess boulder, CO, United States 11-14-12
    Jess boulder, CO, United States 11-14-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating, but didn't need to be a whole book"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Desperate Passage to be better than the print version?

    Only listened to the audio.


    What other book might you compare Desperate Passage to and why?

    That other book where people eat each other's dead bodies (the plane crash in the mountains that happened in the last 20 years , don't remember the name).


    Have you listened to any of Christopher Prince’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No. The narration was flawless, though.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Cry, a little. I was sad that some people chose to kill and eat their dogs rather than eat the already dead bodies of family members. I don't see eating someone who is dead in order to survive is shameful. I do see killing your faithful dog and eating it is shameful if there is an alternative.


    Any additional comments?

    The book could have been half the length, taking away the digression about cannibalism, which is what people, including myself, are fascinated with, but the cannibalism was not the most important part of the Donner parties journey. To me the interesting aspect was how the survivors and witnesses felt a change in the moral view of the world.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    smuiy 05-05-16
    smuiy 05-05-16 Member Since 2013
    ratings
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    32
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    "UNBELIEVABLE"

    Wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time. Amazing what the human body can endure and overcome.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Jennings Portland OR, USA 04-15-16
    C. Jennings Portland OR, USA 04-15-16 Member Since 2013

    CJDaab

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    "It's Willamette dammi"

    And Kearney...is Like Carney...little thing but bothersome
    will....lamb...it. on Tyne plus side..Oregon was pronounced correctly

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    T. Redwood 03-20-16
    T. Redwood 03-20-16

    tredwood

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An amazing piece of American history"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. It was suspenseful and at times, almost unbelievable.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    James Reed, the real hero who marched on to alert rescue teams, and then returned to try and save his family.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The eleven survivors who went dip into the pit of snow to be sheltered from the wind and snow while cowering by a remaining fire.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No extreme reaction, except now I'm inspired to visit Donner State Park to visit the Museum and see the history.


    Any additional comments?

    Some reviewers have disliked the performance, but performances are quite subjective. I thoroughly enjoyed the narrator, as he remained emotionless, while reading in a factual and completely linear fashion. This book is so well organized and covers the blunders from the very beginning of the journey. The characters and struggles become quite real. The narration becomes more suspenseful simply due to the expertly crafted storyline. I will be listening to this audio book again and again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Erica golden, CO, United States 02-12-16
    Erica golden, CO, United States 02-12-16 Member Since 2016
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    8
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    "Wild"

    Great adventure with twists and turns. I love how the documentation of the trip was able to be pieced together and provide such a detailed account of the travelers' risky undertaking.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Angie holladay, Utah 08-19-15
    Angie holladay, Utah 08-19-15 Member Since 2015

    I am an eBay seller who listens to approx. a book a day while taking & editing photos of my items. I love a good suspenseful mystery!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "You Think You Know The Story But You Don't!"

    Wow! I bought this book on sale and waited months to listen to it because a) I thought I knew the story already (pioneers caught in the dead of winter with no food forced to partake in cannibalism blah blah blah) and b) I thought it might be kind of boring but I couldn't have more wrong! One day I ran out of books to listen to and found this one in my library so I decided to give it a try and all I can say is WOW! This book is brilliantly written, the details have been thoroughly researched and the narrator is excellent! I found this story so engaging I did not want to turn it off! After it was over I told EVERYONE I knew about it!

    The story itself is probably one of the most difficult I've ever listened to and yet it tells of a part of history I feel every person should know. Descriptions of the suffering and pain these people endured is in depth and not for the faint at heart however it's also so much more than just about the gore! So much more than JUST cannibalism and that is saying a lot!

    This book made me appreciate my life, made me not want to complain or stress out over stupid things but above all this book gave me an excellent perspective on not only how much suffering, neglect & pain one can endure but how truly STRONG the human spirit is and how the will to live can turn a simple human into a super human!

    This book is incredible! If you're hesitant to buy it just remember this is not the story you read in high school. You may think you already know this story but until you listen to this book you really don't!

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane C. Soule 08-18-15
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    "Wow"

    Couldn't stop listening and I never write reviews! The story was very easy to follow even with many differs characters involved.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jessica 03-18-15
    jessica 03-18-15 Member Since 2015
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    "We take so much for granted"

    This book will remind you how good you have it. Very good read and enjoyable history of the old west, before everyone flew here.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Brightwood, Virginia, United States 10-30-13
    William Brightwood, Virginia, United States 10-30-13 Member Since 2011

    Capt. Moroni

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Outstanding account!"

    This book is concise, accurate, riveting and flows nicely. The author has done magnificent research and portrays this trajedy in accurate context. He also dispells the earlier myths and exaggerations of the publics understanding of the events. This work explains many of the details of the significant mistakes and decisions that lead the Donner Party to their entrapment in the Sierras. But from there the author clearly lays out the trials and tribulations of their four and a half month horror and the reader learns they simply did what they had to do to survive. This book made me feel a part of the experience. What a tribute to the pioneering spirit that helped settle our West. I cannot pray over my meals or at my bedside without pausing to reflect my own blessings of food, warmth, and shelter. The narrarator does a fine job. Some reviews are simply too critical and expect perfection. The narration flows nicely.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katherine 10-20-13
    Katherine 10-20-13 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A gripping true story"

    We listened to this on a long journey - it is the story of a long and ill-starred journey. The inevitability of the tragedy that befell these pioneering families is painful. It emphasised for me the huge risks taken by our pioneering families in the opening up of our countries.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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