Baby Boomers, Plus 20

Corrections or additions?

Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 29, 2000. All rights reserved.

On the Trail with Lewis & Clark & the Baby Boomers

by Nicole Plett

Landon Y. Jones has earned his credentials as a prognosticator.

This is the man, after all, who popularized the term "baby boomers"

in his 1980 book, "Great Expectations." Twenty years later

it is safe to say that Jones’s "biography of a generation"

accurately predicted a slew of significant traits, including the advent

of "a singles society" and the characterization of the vast

new baby bulge as "the most powerfully nostalgic generation in


Today Jones is making a new — though somewhat less grand —

prediction. "I think the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition

will be the biggest tourist event of this decade," announces Jones

in a phone interview from his home office in Princeton. The former

managing editor of both Money and People magazines, Jones is now vice

president for strategic planning at Time Warner in New York.

In his first hardcover work since "Great Expectations: America

and the Baby Boom Generation," Jones has just published "The

Essential Lewis and Clark," a new edition of the journals written

by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their two-and-a-half-year,

8,000-mile expedition by river and land from St. Louis, Missouri,

to the Pacific coast. The "Essential Lewis and Clark" was

published in February by the Ecco Press imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Jones has winnowed down the pair’s voluminous field journals to a

manageable, 200-page volume — small enough to fit into the pack

or pocket of myriad latter-day explorers. The 200-year-old tales from

this mythic American journey can still produce goose bumps in those

of us well-accustomed to making the trip via the interstate highway

system or, better still, by means of a three-and-a-half-hour airplane

ride. Jones reads from his book at Barnes & Noble at MarketFair on

Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m.

It has been nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

led their "Corps of Discovery," successfully completing a

journey that changed them from men into myth and defined the nation

in history, geography, and identity. The explorers’ treacherous journey

through the unmapped lands west of the Mississippi was documented

in daily journals that recorded every event and encounter.

Today these journals constitute the raw material of history. But not

everyone is cut out to labor through the more than 900,000 words left

by the pair of conscientious explorers. As an editor with some mythic

success of his own — ushering People magazine to a top media spot

during the second half of the 20th century — Jones brings a journalist’s

nose for drama and a storyteller’s zeal to the old but extraordinary


"In a time when America is finding its common purpose elusive,

it is not surprising that the sense of mission that drove Lewis and

Clark evokes both nostalgia and admiration," writes Jones. His

brief but cogent introduction to "The Essential Lewis and Clark"

sets the stage for the epic journey originally designed to locate

an easy water route across the continent.

In 1803, when the men set out to lead the expedition at the direction

of President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis was just 29, and William

Clark was 33. Lewis was Thomas Jefferson’s trusted family friend from

Virginia. And it was Lewis who recruited William Clark, a man who

had commanded the army company Lewis had served in during the Whiskey


In order to deflect politically sensitive questions about the true

motives for the expedition — which were indeed expansionist —

Jefferson claimed it as "a literary pursuit," designed to

add knowledge about the natural history and geology of the unmapped

regions. This choice of nomenclature made the journals kept by the

dual leaders essential and germane to the mission. "[Jefferson’s]

real agenda was to capture the flourishing Canadian fur trade from

the British and to establish America’s territorial claims to the Oregon

coast," Jones explains in his introduction. Lewis and Clark commanded

an expedition corps of some 30 men, and their responsibilities for

enforcing discipline among this motley military crew began from the


The journals were written by the two captains on a daily basis, then

expanded when time allowed. Jones aims to include all the most riveting

tales of their adventure, told in their own words — and in their

own spellings — or as Jones characterizes them, "in all their

rococo glory." Certain new words and concepts, such as the oppressive

mosquitoes and the names of new Native American acquaintances such

as the Sioux, are spelled as many as five different ways over the

course of the book. Yet from the mysteries of the Missouri River,

to the Great Plains, to the glory of Yellowstone, to the majesty of

the Rockies, these handwritten journals heralded names that have become

now etched into the national identity — – Yellowstone, the Gates

of the Mountains, and the Continental Divide, to name just a few.

While the literary and poetic Lewis was prone to spells of melancholia,

apparently letting his chronicle lapse for extended periods of time,

Clark was ever the blunt military man. Some of Clark’s journal entries

are about as dry as the family shopping list.

Hunger and fear were the discovery party’s elemental companions. Their

journals tell of the awe-inspiring array of flora, fauna, and animal

life they encountered. They also chronicle the dangers of sub-zero

temperatures, the constant threat from native inhabitants, navigating

rapids, and combating disease. Among the spontaneous feats of bravery

and compassion was Lewis saving himself from a 300-foot fall using

only his knife; and Clark dividing his rations among hungry Native

Americans with whom they crossed paths.

One of the more intriguing members of the expedition party, about

whom every American girl would like to know more, is the now-famous

Sacagawea, the Shoshone girl who joined the party at the Mandan Villages

and became the wife of one of the party’s two interpreters.

Despite the technological transformation of the past 200 years, today’s

readers can — by their own leap of imagination — share the

thrill of victory as the explorers finally reach the Pacific Ocean.

Born in 1943, Jones had a three-year jump on the "boomer"

generation he wrote about so effectively in "Great Expectations."

The new book is dedicated to his father, Landon Y. Jones Sr., "who

led my first exploration of the West," with an additional acknowledgment

to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Society. He chose as his source

for "The Essential Lewis and Clark" the 1904-05 edition, "Original

Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," edited and published

by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

"I grew up in St. Louis, the starting point for the expedition,

and even as a child, I grew up playing around monuments to Lewis and

Clark," says Jones. "Over the past 10 years, I began visiting

Montana, where you can put your foot on the same trail they walked."

"My father took me to the Rocky Mountains when I was a boy. He

was an accountant and would audit the books for companies in places

like Salt Lake City. I was probably about age 10 the first time we

went out West." For a 10-year-old boy — and for Americans

exploring the lands west of the Mississippi — the first sight

of the Rocky Mountains is, in Jones’s words, "astonishing."

"No one in Lewis and Clark’s time could have guessed it,"

he says. "The European Alps were then considered just about the

highest mountains there were. And the Blue Ridge Mountains that people

did know are pretty mellow compared to the Rockies."

The scenic beauty spelled trouble whether the expedition was traveling

by boat or by foot. "They were traveling up the Missouri, the

Columbia, and the Yellow River. Frankly, there was a lot more walking

than people realize," says Jones. "For one thing, they had

to push their boats against the current," so even traveling by

river, some of the party was laboring along the shore.

Then there was the unforeseen portage of 220 miles across the most

formidable mountains in North America, the Rocky Mountains. "What

they thought was going to be a half-day walk turned out to almost

kill them," says Jones.

As a Princeton undergraduate, Jones’s roommate had an uncle who owned

a ranch in Montana, giving him new opportunities to return to the

West. He and his wife, Sarah, the parents of three adult children,

now own a vacation home near Bozeman, Montana. Jones also participates

in the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Society, an enthusiasts’ group

of several thousand members that meets annually at some point along

the Lewis and Clark Trail, and will attend his third society meeting

this summer in Dillon, Montana.

"Originally I wanted to write a book about the journey itself,"

says Jones. "Then Stephen Ambrose wrote a very good account that

became a best-seller. And that sort of ended that idea."

Ambrose, a prolific historian whose areas of expertise

also include World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, and the transcontinental

railroad, published "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas

Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West" in 1996. It became

a major best seller, and continues to sell well in paperback. (Since

then Jones has been appointed, along with Ambrose and Ken Burns, director

of the PBS series on the expedition, to the National Lewis and Clark

Bicentennial Council, the group planning an extended celebration that

begins in 2003.)

How Jones came to settle on his own, abridged "trail" edition

of the Lewis and Clark journals was the result of Jones’s friendship

with poet and publisher Daniel Halpern, founder and editor of Ecco

Press. Founded in 1971, Ecco Press was based in Hopewell for eight

years prior to its 1999 sale to Harper Collins. One of Ecco’s specialties

was an extensive series known as "Essential" books that includes

more than 20 small, portable anthologies of the works of well-loved

poets, selected and introduced by contemporary literary luminaries

sought out by Halpern.

"My friend Joyce Carol Oates, who had just completed `The Essential

Emily Dickinson’ for Ecco, told me I should do one, too. And I said,

`But I don’t know anything besides Lewis and Clark,’" Jones recalls.

"At the time I had just finished as editor at People Magazine.

I had seen the human drama that lies in the journals themselves."

"I knew that if you cut out the boring parts — there’s a lot

of duplication, data on celestial navigation, water depths, and so

forth — what you have left is human drama," says Jones.

Since his promotion to vice president for Strategic Planning at Time

Warner, Jones’s day-to-day pursuits are less apparent to his friends

in Princeton, the home town of his adult years. "No one can make

any sense of my title," says Jones. "I operate as a midwife

for new magazine ideas inside the company, and as a suggestion box

for people with new magazine ideas outside the company. I also look

around for magazine acquisitions." Working on developing only

the paper editions of new magazines, Jones observes that "certainly,

for a new magazine to start now, it needs to have a strong presence

on the Internet also."

And what does he make of the reading habits of today’s Internet generation,

the young adult children of the much-studied boomers? "They tend

to read less for pleasure and more for information. But they will

definitely pursue their interests through reading — which is why

they’ll go to the journals of Lewis and Clark."

"My hope is that the Lewis and Clark book will be used as a resource

by people visiting the trail during the bicentennial," says Jones.

"I hope most of them will be baby boomers and their children,

on the trail but not damaging these ecologically fragile areas."

Landon Y. Jones, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, 609-897-9250.

"The Essential Lewis and Clark" (The Ecco Press/HarperCollins

Publishers; $24). Free. Thursday, March 30, 7 p.m.

Top Of Page
Baby Boomers, Plus 20

Great Expectations" remains a signature work of

Landon Jones’s career. The boomers — born between 1946 through

1964 — peaked in 1957 when 4.3 million babies were born in a single

year. Jones’ avowed purpose was to find out what the baby boom was

doing to America and to itself.

"The baby boom is, and will continue to be, the decisive generation

in our history, the biggest, richest, and best-educated generation

America has ever produced." wrote Jones in 1980.

Change is what he documented. And as an indication of his judgment,

Abbie Hoffman, Joyce Maynard, and Joe Klein are just a few of the

individuals he chose to quote, back in 1980, as spokespersons for

their generation.

What generational change meant in term of marketing leads to some

of Jones’s more amusing observations. He documents the peaks and valleys

in demand for all sorts of commodities from Davy Crockett coonskin

caps to Dr. Spock paperbacks to cigaret papers. And he predicted that

"the baby boom will be preparing us for the reign of the old.

With it will come what in many ways will be a restoration of the power

and position of the elderly in society."

Jones’s 1980 book forecast the labor scarcity that is now a reality

for American business, and predicted that boomers would seek self

fulfillment as much as career advancement. It noted, most presciently,

that beginning around 1990 businesses would spend more on capital

equipment and research to compensate for the labor shortage, creating

"a brake on the debilitating inflation that so depressed the boom

generation in the past decade."

The question of whether Jones is tempted to write a sequel to "Great

Expectations" is one he has heard often over the past 20 years.

"I have been thinking about it more recently. That’s because the

boomers are entering an interesting phase, joining `The New Old.’

We had Clinton celebrating his 50th birthday in public, and there’s

the stigma of getting your AARP card through the mail. The question

is, how to do it. I don’t want to have to repeat myself."


Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments