The Explorers: A New History of America in Ten Expeditions (Hardcover)

The Explorers: A New History of America in Ten Expeditions By Amanda Bellows Cover Image

The Explorers: A New History of America in Ten Expeditions (Hardcover)


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A fascinating new history of America, told through the stories of a diverse cast of ten extraordinary—and often overlooked—adventurers, from Sacagawea to Matthew Henson to Sally Ride, who pushed the boundaries of discovery and determined our national destiny.

"Brilliantly imaginative, beautifully written." —David Blight, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"A considerable undertaking. … [Bellows's] keen sense of story and her appreciation of her individual subjects tell us much that is new, and vividly." —Wall Street Journal

The archetype of the American explorer, a rugged white man, has dominated our popular culture since the late eighteenth century, when Daniel Boone’s autobiography captivated readers with tales of treacherous journeys. But our commonly held ideas about American exploration do not tell the whole story—far from it.

The Explorers rediscovers a diverse group of Americans who went to the western frontier and beyond, traversing the farthest reaches of the globe and even penetrating outer space in their endeavor to find the unknown. Many escaped from lives circumscribed by racism, sexism, poverty, and discrimination as they took on great risk in unfamiliar territory. Born into slavery, James Beckwourth found freedom as a mountain man and became one of the great entrepreneurs of Gold Rush California. Matthew Henson, the son of African American sharecroppers, left rural Maryland behind to seek the North Pole. Women like Harriet Chalmers Adams ascended Peruvian mountains to gain geographic knowledge while Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride shattered glass ceilings by pushing the limits of flight.

In The Explorers, readers will travel across the vast Great Plains and into the heights of the Sierra Nevada mountains; they will traverse the frozen Arctic Ocean and descend into the jungles of South America; they will journey by canoe and horseback, train and dogsled, airplane and space shuttle. Readers will experience the exhilarating history of American exploration alongside the men and women who shared a deep drive to discover the unknown.

Across two centuries and many thousands of miles of terrain, Amanda Bellows offers an ode to our country’s most intrepid adventurers—and reveals the history of America in the process.

Amanda Bellows is a historian of the United States and teaches undergraduates at the New School. She received her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bellows served as a Project Historian for the New-York Historical Society’s major exhibit Black Citizenship in the Jim Crow Era, supported by a significant National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and has published writing in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She is the author of American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination, published by UNC Press.


"Amanda Bellows's The Explorers is an intrepid study of the most intrepid people, the majority women. Put aside the current obsession with "settler colonialism," and behold a brilliantly imaginative, beautifully written story about many kinds of frontiers—oceans, mountains, the limits of the sky itself, and above all the nature of the human quest against all manner of odds, including race and gender. From Sacagawea to John Muir to Sally Ride, this book is immensely readable and surprising in its insights." — DAVID BLIGHT, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"A considerable undertaking. … The interesting thing about explorers is that something innate drives them to overcome obstacles, from impenetrable forests and uncrossed glaciers to parental disapproval. The protagonists of Ms. Bellows's adventures are spirited. ... [Bellows's] keen sense of story and her appreciation of her individual subjects tell us much that is new, and vividly." — Wall Street Journal

"This book traces an undertold history of America, that of explorers who shaped American lives and American prospects. Where other books narrow—or even penalize—The Explorers opens and invites, blazing a trail to a better, more open, America." — AMITY SHLAES, New York Times bestselling author of The Forgotten Man

"From Sacagawea and Laura Ingalls Wilder to Matthew Henson and Sally Ride, The Explorers is an engaging collective biography of the various men and women of diverse backgrounds who shared a passion to understand their world for themselves and future American explorers. In the process, Amanda Bellows compellingly shows how these adventurers tamed the wilderness of the frontier and shaped America’s destiny in the continental U.S., world, and outer space." — HILARY N. GREEN, James B. Duke Professor of Africana Studies, Davidson College

“Amanda Bellows takes us on a captivating journey of the unlikely and the overlooked, breathing new life into the story of American exploration – and the human experience – that we thought we already knew. And like the discoveries of the incredible men and women she writes about, that is no small feat.” — MARK LEE GARDNER, author of The Earth Is All That Lasts: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the Last Stand of the Great Sioux Nation

“Detailing America’s past through the lives of a diverse group of men and women, The Explorers deepens our understanding of the American soul as well as the human need to explore. From a bird watcher who helped sow the seeds of today’s environmental consciousness to America's first female astronaut, Amanda Bellows highlights the struggles and achievements of people whom history has sometimes overlooked, but don’t deserve to be. Their spirit and our country’s history come alive in these pages. Selective yet wide in overall scope, The Explorers is a pleasant read and an important exploration of American history.” — JIM DEFELICE, author of West Like Lightning and #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of American Sniper

"Articulate, engaging. ... [Bellows] obviously has great affection and admiration for her subjects... [and] expands our historical understanding by recovering and retelling colorful, important stories." — Kirkus Reviews

"In the U.S., explorer often refers to affluent, able-bodied white men reaching 'unknown' destinations and people. Amanda Bellows succinctly and effectively disrupts that limited framing with her masterful work. Bellows highlights that explorers were a truly diverse group of individuals that helped to shape, while simultaneously challenge, the U.S. Moreover, this book applies restorative justice to historical figures that society and previous history books attempted to erase or ignore. Readers will appreciate the approachable prose that makes the histories of these important historical figures accessible to a diverse audience but also refutes the limited framing of the word explorer." — HOLLY PINHEIRO, Assistant Professor of African American History at Furman University

The Explorers begins with Daniel Boone but takes us far beyond standard stories of men claiming and taming territory. By following a wide range of women and men across the American continent and beyond, Amanda Bellows teaches us new meanings of exploration.” — KATHLEEN DUVAL, Professor of History, University of North Carolina, and author of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

"Amanda Bellows expands our appreciation for what has constituted the frontier, which she so ably demonstrates ranges from the “unsettled West” to parts of Africa to the Arctic and to space, the final frontier. The Explorers places each portraiture within its richly detailed historical moment to offer a new way of understanding the American past. The successes, competitions, missteps, and tragedies that befell the explorers surveyed in this book will change how students think about the unfolding of American history and who to commemorate among its difference makers." — WILLIAM HART, Professor Emeritus of History, Middlebury College