Preparing for an Expedition
For several months before he set off in the summer of 1803, Meriwether Lewis was occupied with preparations for the expedition. Jefferson had arranged for him to meet with many of the most learned scientists and scholars of the day and Lewis applied himself day and night to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.
Lewis learned a great deal about botany, navigation, fossils, medicine, anatomy and more from those who were the foremost in their fields. Those he met with had written some of the first textbooks on their subjects of expertise.
For example, he visited Benjamin Smith Barton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of the first textbook on botany in the United States.
As much understanding as Lewis could gain to take on the expedition in his mind, it is noteworthy that he also compiled a remarkable traveling reference library! Here are some of the books it included: *
· Barton’s Elements of Botany (which was not a gift – Lewis paid $6 for it)
· A borrowed book from Barton, Antoine DuPratz’ History of Louisiana
· Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy
· A two-volume edition of Linnaeus, the founder of the Latin Classification of Plants
· A four-volume Dictionary
· A Practical Introduction to Spherics (geometry of figures on a sphere)
· An Introduction to Nautical Astronomy, and a Nautical Almanac
· An Astronomical Ephemeris (logging times and locations of stars), together with tables necessary to finding latitude and longitude
Lewis also purchased the best maps he could find or traced sections because he couldn’t afford the cost or weight of more maps in their entirety.
Using Books to Get It Right
An analysis of Lewis’ journals shows that he used his reference library during the journey. For example, he used over 200 technical botanical terms to describe the plants he was discovering, a number of modern botanists say is remarkable for an amateur. I think this is a clear indication that Lewis was referencing his books to help him execute with precision and continue to learn.
Lewis also took care of his books. Remember, one of the books he took on this rugged journey into the wilderness had been borrowed. When the book was returned several years later to its owner, Professor Barton, Lewis made the following inscription in the cover:
“Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton was so obliging as to lend me this copy of Monsr. Du Pratz’ History of Louisiana in June 1803, it has since been conveyed by me to the Pacific Ocean through the interior of North America on my late tour thither and is now returned to its proprietor by his Friend and Obt. Servt. Meriwether Lewis, Philadelphia, May 9, 1807.”
Lewis knew his mission was important and he wanted to get it right! He kept his books with him. He prized the power of good books to guide him!
The Role of Books in Our Journey
Preparations for our leadership journey are no less important! We want to get it right. We study the best books we can find and listen to those who are foremost in their field as we seek education to start our professional journeys.
I remember many pivotal books that have shaped my career. Among the earliest are “Built to Last” by Jim Collins, and “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack. These books taught me about how to create a winning company culture.
I read “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” and all the other books I could find by Al Ries and Jack Trout. These books helped me through the journey of starting a business with my partner and growing it to be sold to a public company 3 years later.
Simon Sinek and his book “Start With Why” was a major influence in my decision to move my family to another state to join a company with a mission that resonated for me.
Over the last year or so I’ve enjoyed several books including “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza, the “Jackrabbit Factor: Portal to Genius” by Leslie Householder, and “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey that have helped me appreciate the power of my thoughts!
This list just scratches the surface! With so many good books and Audible recordings available, I’m getting new books every month and often repeating them. They somehow seem to deliver new ideas and understanding to me just when I need it!
The Power of Good Books
“Books, the journals, and a rifle – these were Meriwether Lewis’s essentials. With them, he had conquered and described a wilderness.” This is how Stephen Ambrose succinctly described the key success factors of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
As you think about the way books influenced the success of Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery, I invite you to think about the influence of powerful books in your own life!
Which books have changed you?
What are you reading now?
What will you read next?
As George R.R. Martin put it, “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.”
If we are to keep our edge and exhibit the courage to lead from our hearts, we must fill our hearts and minds with sound ideas and understanding. We must prize the power of good books!
“Prize The Power of Good Books” is the fourth of Five Lessons about Courage that are as applicable for business leaders today as they were 200 years ago when they were first encountered and learned by the leaders of the Corps of Discovery. Here’s a recap of the five lessons:
Watch for my next post where we’ll discuss lesson number five – The Courage to Find Your North Star.
Plus, if you’ll follow me through the series, I’ll reveal a surprising sixth lesson that ties all the other ones together!
* Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West 1997, p.90