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Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West | [Ethan Rarick]

Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

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.
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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

4.0 (365 )
5 star
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4.2 (292 )
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Story
4.1 (292 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
 (13)
1 star
 (6)
Performance
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  •  
    Roger arcadia, CA, United States 02-09-10
    Roger arcadia, CA, United States 02-09-10 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I REALLY enjoyed this book"

    I REALLY enjoyed this book. I have listened to it twice in the last three weeks - and don't want it to end. The book is narrated by Christopher Prince, who makes the book enjoyable listening.


    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JOSEPH Bonners Ferry, ID, United States 06-11-12
    JOSEPH Bonners Ferry, ID, United States 06-11-12 Member Since 2010

    Joseph Brown

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very well researched story of the Donner Party"

    Overall a very good book, I was impressed by the detail of available information presented in the book. Part 2 has the story most might know about the actual events at Donner Lake. But listening to the buildup, the wrong decisions, the just plain bad luck, as well as all the 'back story' to the other families involved in this was very interesting to me.

    The performance was ok, not bad but not too great either. He reads the story well, what detracted it for me was the numerous 'voice overs' where corrections were made in the reading. They were annoying to me because they're so obvious! Changes in sound quality and sometimes volume in the voice overs just got to be a bit bothersome to me. I've heard many books were the voice overs are seamless or almost totally undetectable. This isn't one of those!

    Again a very good story! If interested in the story of the Donner Party, I'd recommend this version especially due to the detail of the story told.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Herb Rowley, MA, United States 01-01-13
    Herb Rowley, MA, United States 01-01-13 Member Since 2012

    I enjoy non-fiction history books. Audible is allowing me to catch up on all those classics I should have read before but never got around to. I have a long commute to work and audio books make the drive go so much faster.

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    "Excellent book - amazing history"

    I love reading personal accounts of historical events. Prior to listening to this book I knew very little about the Donner party experience and not much about America's westward expansion in the 1800s. This story is truly amazing for two reasons. The personal courage and perseverance of those involved is beyond anything I could imagine. Also, this book is so well researched and documented that I have confidence the story occurred just as it is written. Some might consider this book just because of the well known accounts of cannibalism but there is so much more. It is a story of commitment, resolve, and heroism in the face of extreme trials.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Celia Bassett, VA, United States 11-22-12
    Celia Bassett, VA, United States 11-22-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Interesting"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Probably


    What did you like best about this story?

    The book gives more information and a fuller understanding of what happened during this point in history. The term "Donner Party" has become a short hand for stupid decisions and cannibalism. This book shows that the situation really resulted from many tiny decisions and an unusually bad and early winter. A better understanding of the people involved as well as America during this period really draws you into the story. Truth really is stranger than fiction.


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

    No, GREAT VOICE. Occasional pronunciation issues and a couple of inflections that lead you to believe he's NOT listening to the story he's reading. Neither is the director. I would listen to him again, he only made me wince 5 or 6 times.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen ROSCOMMON, MI, United States 11-20-12
    Karen ROSCOMMON, MI, United States 11-20-12 Member Since 2011

    Karen of Northern Michigan

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    "Lots of factual information"

    Enjoyed the book. The author did his research and gives an interesting story of how the trip came about and how it affected each group of people in it.. I found it very interesting, yet felt their pain and hardships while listening to it.. Amazing what people went through back then compared to our jumping in a car and driving cross country today..

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    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 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katherine YANCO, Australia 10-20-13
    Katherine YANCO, Australia 10-20-13 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    26
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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 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LifetimeRoad Deep South 11-05-12
    LifetimeRoad Deep South 11-05-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Sorry, couldn't enjoy this"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Not really. I would have much rather enjoyed another more captivating book.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Ethan Rarick again?

    Possibly. Depends.


    How could the performance have been better?

    The narrator sounds like a dad scolding his 10 year old son up in the bedroom. The tone could be expressed by the phrase " How many times have I told you not to etc., etc, etc, "


    Did Desperate Passage inspire you to do anything?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    I appreciate the research put into Desperate Passage but it could have been written in a more concise manner, and certainly could have had a better narrator.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marie-Aline Bernville, PA, United States 10-05-12
    Marie-Aline Bernville, PA, United States 10-05-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Timing is off"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    No. It is a fascinating story, but I got so distracted by the narrator's inflection, which was nearly identical for every sentence, that I had a hard time focusing on the actual events in the story. He often does not give us enough time to absorb things before moving on to a new topic, which I also found distracting, and I often could not tell when a character was speaking, or whether it was the author.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LeeAnne Sandston, VA, United States 08-15-12
    LeeAnne Sandston, VA, United States 08-15-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Riveting!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Desperate Passage to be better than the print version?

    Excellent book and good narrator. Can't go wrong with such a dramatic story.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Huw
    Swansea, Swansea, United Kingdom
    3/23/10
    Overall
    "Desperate Passage"

    Probably not the most cheerful of subjects to listen to on audio book. But almost from the first few minutes I was whisked off into nineteenth century America. I?ve spent the last three mornings sitting in the work car park waiting for a chapter to end before being able to leave the car!! I?m now over half way through the audio book and actually looking forward to going into work tomorrow ? or at least the drive in and the drive home!! Don?t think about it ? get this audio book!!!!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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