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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.

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Performance

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Story

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  • MP
  • 10-28-12

Incredible Story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This story is researched well and told in an exciting way. Having visited some of the sites that the Donner party passed through, it is remarkable that they even made it to Donner Lake. The hardships of traveling across the Salt Lake desert almost finished the group. However, at Donner Lake their troubles really began. It is difficult to imagine how bad it must have been at the lake for these people. They attempted to cross the mountains in their terrible condition, weak from not eating, striking out with the relief parties, in snow 20 feet deep, with small children who had to be carried. Given what they faced at the lake camps, the cannibalism, for which the story is known, is much easier to understand.

Which character – as performed by Christopher Prince – was your favorite?

Stanton, the single man, with no need to risk his life, was the most honorable character. He had no real reason to go back for the others expect on principle and it cost him dearly.

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Corey
  • SHEFFIELD, MA, United States
  • 10-15-12

Fantastic!

Love the vocabulary (vexatious, onerous, amiable) and the metaphors ("buyoed by optimism"). Certainly feels like I really understand the terrain and hardships so much better. Most focus on the Donners alone, but an emphasis on the Reeds is interesting and lively. This incredibly researched narrative history will leave you wanting more. I already started looking for more books by the same author. Enjoy!

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WOW!

Would you listen to Desperate Passage again? Why?

This book was difficult to leave.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Desperate Passage?

The entire book was wonderful.

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

Yes, in parts, I cried.

Any additional comments?

A wonderful read!

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  • Jeremy
  • CHICAGO, IL, United States
  • 09-28-12

How can a story about cannabilism be so inspiring?

What did you love best about Desperate Passage?

The facts are undeniable and horrifying- settlers resorting to cannablism. What I found most shocking though was how inspiring a story it was. I have never been so motivated as these people were to pick up and leave my life and travel into the complete unknown.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Desperate Passage?

When the Donner party is rescued was not how I imagened.

What does Christopher Prince bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

After his introduction about cannablism, which was hard to listen to- he calms it down and is more subtle and matter of fact.

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

Just what I said earlier. It is hard to wrap your brain around cannabilism but after you read -- you get it. And somehow, it's still scary but you understand.

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  • Story

A Compelling historic view

This could have been a very grotty book. It's not. It's a very clear eyed view of the Oregon/Calfornia trail. And the very real risks involved. I found it quite compelling.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Great story

What I really loved about this book was that it didn't try to make someone into a hero or heroine. We read about real people, making decisions for themselves, their families, their pets. One decision different can mean life and death; and it sometimes is just a toss of the coin. At one point a person within the Donner party is the savior and at other times, they make decisions for their personal survival. This story is reality and I really enjoyed it because it was not dressed up as something it wasn't. The people were real with all their frailties. Narration was excellent and held my interest. There were times I drove around the block a few times because I didn't want to shut the story down. Good read and good reader!

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Breaks down commonly held myths of this story

If you could sum up Desperate Passage in three words, what would they be?

Well researched <br/>

What was one of the most memorable moments of Desperate Passage?

The choices and consequences of the party that led to their situation. Although I knew some about the expansionist period and the Oregon Trail, this book filled in a lot of the details in a fascinating book that kept me interested throughout. No fiction could be more interesting than recounts of true story.

What does Christopher Prince bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?

Not sure if I paid attention to what the narrator brought to the story; I paid more attention to the story and listening to the events play out.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, this book was riveting and kept me interested,it was not quite good enough to make me listen to app 12 hours in one sitting.

Any additional comments?

Although I mostly knew the fate of this party it was fascinating to hear about all of the details and events in a well-researched book and well-written book. <br/><br/>The details in this book were kept to the ones that were important to the events described in that section.