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A remarkable 18th-century adventure - a true story of love, murder and survival...
Robert Whitaker is a science journalist and the author, most recently, of the much-acclaimed Mad in America. He has won the George Polk Award for Medical Writing and a National Association of Science Writers' Award for best magazine article. He was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, considered US journalism's top prize. Robert Whitaker's long fascination with South America began in the late 1970s, when he built and lived in a bamboo hut on the Ecuadorian coast. He now lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, Whitaker (Mad in America) here combines a carefully documented account of the 1736-44 French Academy of Science-sponsored expedition of Charles-Marie de La Condamine to Peru to measure "the distance of one degree of latitude at the equator" with an equally well-documented story of Isabel Godin, who survived, alone and against all odds, a perilous journey through the Upper Amazon to become reunited with her mapmaker husband, Jean Godin, the youngest member of the La Condamine expedition. Although the interweaving of these two accounts can make for slow going there is a 20-year hiatus between Isabel Godin's ordeal and the outcome of La Condamine's somewhat politically suspect expedition Whitaker's diligence (both in seeking out original sources and in personally retracing Isabel's journey) results in a valuable addition to a little-explored period in South American history. Particularly interesting are the insights Whitaker gives us into France's late entry into the contest still being waged for New World riches. The nine-page bibliography (which includes three pages of primary sources), backed up by 24 pages of notes, is well worth the price of admission. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries with an interest in 17th- and 18th-century scientific exploration. Robert C. Jones, Warrensburg, MO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
As was customary for girls from elite families in 18th-century colonial Peru, Isabel Grames?n was barely a teenager when she married Jean Godin, a Frenchman visiting the territory as an assistant on a scientific expedition. Planning to bring his wife back to France, Godin trekked across South America to check in with the French colonial authorities, but was refused permission to return up the Amazon back into Spanish territory to retrieve Isabel. So they remained a continent apart for 20 years until 1769, when Isabel started making her way east. Her party ran aground on the Bobonaza River (which feeds into the Amazon), and though almost everyone perished, she managed to survive alone in the rainforest for weeks. Although science journalist Whitaker doesn't directly refer to his own modern trek following Isabel's route down the Bobonaza, his descriptions of the conditions she would have encountered convey his familiarity with the territory, often quite viscerally, ("There are giant stinging ants, ants that bite, and ants that both bite and sting"). His account of the French expedition that brought Godin to Peru and then separated him from his new wife is equally vivid, with exhilarating discoveries and petty squabbles-and richly illustrated with contemporary drawings. Though an early, long digression tracing the history of attempts to measure the size of the earth may establish the context a little too solidly, making some readers impatient, they'll certainly be hooked once the story really begins. Isabel and Jean's adventures are riveting enough on their own, and colonial South America's largely unfamiliar history adds another compelling layer to this well-crafted yarn. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Apr.) Forecast: Whitaker's book deserves a large audience, and it will benefit from an author tour, ad campaign and NPR feature campaign. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Whitaker merges a gripping account of scientific exploration with an amazing story of survival in the wilderness. For those who think of the Enlightenment only in terms of sedate Paris salons, this book will alter that image forever. The best minds of Europe in the 1730s knew that the Earth was not perfectly round, but the exact size and shape were in hot debate. Someone figured out that to nail down the answer certain data was needed, and that the best place to get that data was at the equator. Given the technological and political realities of the time, that meant one place: Peru. A scientific expedition was organized in Paris and sent to the New World in 1735. After 10 years of incredible hardships and setbacks, it accomplished its mission (and a host of other enlightenments along the way). As captivating as this story proved to be, another developed: a young member of the party met, fell in love with, and married an upper-class, 13-year-old Peruvian girl. Due to a tangled swirl of unfortunate events, this couple became separated for 20 years (beginning just before the birth of their only child). Finally, in 1769, Isabel Grames-n set off on a trek through the most inhospitable of jungles to rejoin her husband in French Guiana. The author's depiction of that harrowing journey is the crowning jewel of this outstanding volume.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"'Gripping...one of the best books I have read this year'" * DAILY TELEGRAPH * "'An unlikely page-turner...as a testament to frustration, endurance and mutual devotion, this takes some beating'" * SUNDAY TIMES * "'Enthralling...Full of mystery and danger, bravery and tragedy, with a rapturous love story at its core that transcends both time and continents. A marvellous read'" * DENNIS LEHANE * "'In the brilliant tradition of Dava Sobel's Longitude...combines powerful storytelling with excellent historical research in a book that reads like a novel'" * ALAN LIGHTMAN, author of 'Einstein's Dreams' * "'An exemplary narrative history and a fascinating tale of science, love and survival'" * MARK HONIGSBAUM, author of 'The Fever Trail' *