The story of the Donner Party, which survived a winter in the snowy Sierra through incredible courage, determination, and a touch of cannibalism, has fascinated the American public ever since the ill-fated 1846-47 trip.
Dozens of books and memoirs have been written about the wagon train party that left
Surprisingly, the best-known non-fiction book on the subject, Ordeal By Hunger, was published by George Rippey in the 1930s. Since then, new documents, diaries and letters have come to light and archeologists have led new expeditions to
Now journalist Ethan Rarick has written Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West, drawing from the new documents and new information about what happens to humans as they slowly starve. It got a rave review in the New York Times Book Review. I went to hear him speak last night at Cody’s Books in
Rarick believes that the Donner Party continues to fascinate people not because of the cannibalism, but because the story illuminates how regular people survived in extraordinary circumstances. Most survival stories turned into books feature military men or famous explorers like Shakelton or Hilary, not ordinary mothers and fathers.
“There’s much we can learn about regular people in extraordinary circumstances,” Rarick said. “That’s the story of the Donner Party.”
Rarick was one of the last writers to speak from the Cody’s on
I also had a chance to go last week to hear Michelle Richmond read from her book The House of Fog, just released in paperback.