Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Discovery of Jeanne Baret

by Glynis Ridley

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover; and then the title; and then the subtitle.  When I was offered this book by Crown Publishing I caught a glimpse of the cover and thought, "Oh, it's an Andrea Barrett book!"  I love her - she writes beautiful novels dealing with scientific aspects.  Then I noticed it was about a woman named Baret - close.  And then the subtitle: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe.  It was a bout science!  I knew this was a book for me even if it wasn't written by Ms. Barrett.

I don't know if this is a biography or fiction.  The research was in depth and well presented, but there was much speculation as to the thoughts and feelings of the people involved.  For instance, we may suppose that Barret felt animosity toward her traveling companion and teacher, botanist Philibert Commerson at certain times and at others love and gratitude, but to be truthful that part of the book is conjecture.  It's probable to most readers that she should have despised the man long before they ever set sail, but she still dressed as a man to accompany him around the world.  A few good reason are supplied by the author as to Jeanne's reasons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved learning so many new things about life and science in the late 1760s.  I tried to imagine how Jeanne could pull off her disguise for more than a month in such a tightly cloistered environment as a ship full of men.  I mean, how does a woman conceal evidence of her period in a day and age when they had to use and reuse rags?  Of course, her secret was eventually found out and acknowledged.

One caution:  I was confused by the Introduction.  It just jumps right in and talks about Jeanne Barret like she was a person I should know of and that I should be familiar with her circumstances, which I was not.  I decided its purpose was to justify the need to write a book about Barret.  Keep reading.  You'll be rewarded with an interesting story and a very rewarding time of reading.   If I rated books, I'd give this one a 4.25 or 4.5.  I really liked it, but be forewarned that it is not a fluffy, light read.  There was substance to this book.

** I received a free copy of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.


Marg said...

This book does sound really interesting!

Kailana said...

I have this book on my wish list. I am glad to see you liked it. :)

jenclair said...

It sounds good, and I love the cover!

Kristen M. said...

I hadn't heard of this before now so thanks for bringing it to my attention! And there seem to be more biographies lately that talk about feelings and thoughts -- I wonder if authors feel it will be excused by readers because it makes the subjects more relatable or something. Curious anyway.

Les said...

This sounds like something I'd enjoy, but I think my husband might be even more interested. He annotated Joshua Slocum's Sailing Along Around the World and has just finished with the annotation of Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast. I'll have to send him the link to this intriguing review. I'd never heard of this book until today!