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Desperate Passage Audiobook

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

4.1 (439 )
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4.1 (354 )
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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

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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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Herb 01-01-13
    Herb 01-01-13 Member Since 2012
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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 11-22-12
    Celia 11-22-12
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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
  •  
    LifetimeRoad 11-05-12
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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 10-05-12
    Marie-Aline 10-05-12
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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
  •  
    Casey33956 Sandston, VA, United States 08-15-12
    Casey33956 Sandston, VA, United States 08-15-12 Member Since 2009
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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
  •  
    Patroo the High Desert 04-03-12
    Patroo the High Desert 04-03-12 Member Since 2015

    patroo

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    "A complex story that we never knew in such detail"

    This is a superb book, especially for listening to while driving in the country traversed by the Donner party members. The amount of research that went into this book is overwhelming. I've never heard of some of these details, nor had I ever studied the event enough to realize the complexity.

    It wasn't just that they got stranded on the wrong side of the summit when the snows of Truckee started falling in earnest. Over the course of the trip, there were times over and over when they could have gained a day here or there, thwarted by a flooded river for a loss of three days in one spot, taking an extra day off for a 4th of July hangover, etc. If any one of those events had been changed, sending the party on down the trail just a little faster and sooner, they'd have been able to crest the ridge and struggle into the California settlements.

    Poor decision making made an impact, as did a shyster named Hastings, who promoted the Hastings Cutoff as a way to save time. It turned out to be an undeveloped trail that hadn't even been fully traversed by wagons, and the promoter didn't wait to guide them as promised. Trail progress was gained in inches as the roadway was built literally in front of the struggling train.

    Had they stuck with known trails, they'd have made much easier and faster progress overall. They lost cattle and oxen during the trip, and when they finally gave up to winter over at the lake, they didn't have enough supplies. Animals wandered away, died under the deep snows, not to be found without grave difficulty. Even when found, the starved animals provided little food.

    There were several efforts to push through to California with a few of the members, each group given a name, such as "The Forlorn Hope." Some made it through to Sutter's Fort, and Sutter himself helped in assembling relief parties to rescue the stranded. Some of these foundered in the foothills and lost heart themselves as they rationalized that these people in the mountains must be dead, or else doing just fine with all that livestock to eat.

    Meanwhile, the stranded travelers, living in rude cabins roofed with ox hides, were eating everything they could, including the hides that formed their roofs. Eventually cannibalism became the only option left, for all but one family. The escape parties also engaged in cannibalism. The dead had been emaciated when they passed, and they provided little sustenance for those who yet lived.

    Tamsen Donner is a heroine, nursing a dying husband while sending her children to safety. The first time she sent them away, paying their guardians a substantial sum of money for their trouble, the guardians promptly dumped the kids with another stranded family that was camping a ways away. A second attempt at getting the kids out went better, but there were casualties in that party. Tamsen didn't go out with the last big group, electing to check on her husband once again, 7 miles by trail in their shabby cabin. She was going to catch up to them, but it was an unrealistic dream, as even strong men could only do some 5 miles or so a day in the snows, and Tamsen had been on starvation rations for months. Of her fate, we have only Lewis Keseberg swearing that she showed up at his cabin after George Donner died, and that she died that night, presumably from the stress of her journey from their own cabin. Did Keseberg help her into that final darkness? Rob her of family treasure?

    It's a fascinating tale, though a tragic one. We know a luxurious life today compared to those struggling travelers who spent months in wet or icy clothing, huddled around a sputtering fire while gales howled through the drafty walls.

    The narration is very well done.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebeka Wentzville, MO, United States 01-12-12
    Rebeka Wentzville, MO, United States 01-12-12 Member Since 2015

    Average stay at home housewife with 3 kiddos trying to learn about new somethings in the world. Only non-fiction! No time wasters for me!

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    "Desperate for sure!"
    What did you love best about Desperate Passage?

    I cannot say enough about this book. What an incredible story. One of the best things about this book is that there is quite a bit of psychological insight to the mindset of these people.

    I highly recommend this book.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Dr. Robert Griffiths
    Cwmtwrch, Wales, UK
    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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