This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing…

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party (edition 2009)

by Daniel James Brown

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4714935,214 (4.03)59
In April 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors. In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most infamous events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah's journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.… (more)
Title:The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party
Authors:Daniel James Brown
Info:William Morrow, Kindle Edition, 376 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown


Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 59 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
The Indifferent Stars Above frames the story of the Donner party around the perspective of Sarah Graves Fosdick, a young bride who traveled from Illinois to California in 1846, along with her family and her new husband. Not much is known about Sarah, so the author often backfills with information from his own travels (by rental car) along the route.

At times I became annoyed by the frequent asides saying that Sarah must have felt or done this or that. I was also mildly annoyed by frequent references to the author's "great uncle", who was with another party that also followed the Hastings Cutoff, crossing the Sierras just one day before the snowstorm that trapped the Donner Party. The 15 year old George Washington Tucker, along with his father, joined the first rescue team after the survivors of the snowshoe party arrived at Johnson's ranch with news of the situation in the mountains. While I understand that this heroic rescue attempt gave the author a feeling of connection to the Donner party, Tucker died in 1907, so he must have been a generation or two further removed than a "great uncle", and it is highly unlikely that the author's father ever met this ancestor.

Unlike many reviewers here, I liked the background information about a variety of issues: the factors that caused so many Americans to migrate to Oregon and California; weather conditions, moon phases, etc. at various points along the journey; the infamous and self-serving behavior of Lansford Hastings; the extreme weather conditions in the Sierras over the winter of 1846-47; the effects of fatigue, malnutrition, and PTSD on decision making. Although the issue of cannibalism is unavoidable, it is addressed with the greatest sympathy possible, snd is never lurid or sensational. Overall I found this book to be very interesting and informative. ( )
  oregonobsessionz | Jan 9, 2020 |
Horrifying yet beautiful story of the infamous Donner Party, on the way to California in 1846, this wagon train of 80 souls followed dubious advice from a shady guide and took a cut-off path that was supposed to be a short-cut. Instead it took them into inhospitable mountains and deserts. Arriving at the Sierra Nevadas just as the first snow fell, the party was forced to winter at Truckee Lake. Trapped by massive snowfalls and running out of food, a party strapped on snowshoes and headed out across the mountains to get help. As the people left behind began to die off, the survivors infamously resorted to cannibalism to survive. The group seeking help also were forced to do the same, eventually the survivors, more dead than alive, staggered into civilization in California. Successive rescue parties were sent to help the ones left behind, they found a ghoulish scene of people on the brink of death and butchered skeletons. The dying continued until the last survivors were finally brought to safety. The horror of the story is well-known, but Brown succeeds in bringing beauty to the story by concentrating on one young woman, Sarah Graves Fosdick, who lost her new husband but had strength enough to stagger through as one of those sent to find help. The description of Sarah, her life before, during and after the ordeal humanizes the story, and paints a picture of a strong, determined young woman, that is one of the main reasons this book is so compelling. The most moving part is when Brown embarks on his own journey to follow Sarah from her girlhood home in the east to the place in California where she lived out her days and died, a sensitive and moving tribute to one woman who typified the pioneer spirit. I loved this book, it is horrifying and moving by turns but utterly compelling. ( )
  drmaf | Oct 18, 2019 |
I grew up in the Sacramento area. Because of that, I grew up with this part of California history: how the doomed Donner Party and how the lost survivors were rescued and brought to Sutter's Fort where artifacts and history would be viewed on numerous field trips. Family trips often took us through Donner Pass. Thus, as a kid, I had a fascination with what happened and read more than once History of the Donner Party, a contemporary account history by Charles McClashan who interviewed several survivors.

So, although reading The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown (published relatively recently) was definitely a refresher in many ways, I am not really sure I learned anything new with a couple exceptions: he intentionally focuses much more on one person in the Donner Party-- Sarah Graves -- and there is much more grisly detail pertaining to the party's hardships and the the difficulties of westward travel. We definitely have it easy today.

A couple random thoughts: I don't know why Brown chose to spell Tamsen Donner's first name "Tamzene" which is the first time I have ever seen it spelled that way. Also, I loved the author's The Boys in the Boat so much that I was perhaps a bit let down by his narrative in this history. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Aug 5, 2019 |
This book alternates between tedious and fascinating. I listened to it as audio book so who took each route became a little confusing without a map to follow along. ( )
  gbelik | Feb 9, 2019 |
Amazing story of what the families in the Donner Party endured. Historical information woven in with fiction and information on the survivors and their lives afterward. ( )
  readingfiend | Feb 2, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
“The Indifferent Stars Above” is an ­ideal pairing of talent and material.
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
And they had nailed the boards over her face,

The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above.
--W.B. Yeats,
"A Dream of Death"
For Sharon

Thank you
First words
The night before Sarah left Illinois for California, a full moon -- as plump and promising as a pearl -- hung over Steuben Township.
Death was the rule, life the exception. Life was at best a transitory dream, set in a universe that was entirely indifferent to his fate.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alum

Daniel James Brown's book The Indifferent Stars Above was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Sign up to get a pre-publication copy in exchange for a review.

LibraryThing Author

Daniel James Brown is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

profile page | author page

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.03)
1 2
2 4
2.5 3
3 16
3.5 10
4 37
4.5 18
5 34

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

» Publisher information page


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 142,402,357 books! | Top bar: Always visible