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Letters from Yellowstone Hardcover – July 19, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (July 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670886319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670886319
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,552,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the spring of 1898, the Smithsonian Institution organized an expedition for botanical research in Wyoming's Yellowstone Park. First-time novelist Smith, an environmental and science writer, follows amateur botanist A.E. Bartram's summer as the lone woman in that party of male professionals, telling her story through detailed letters (and the occasional Western Union telegram). When Cornell student Bartram arrives in the camp, she receives a cool reception from expedition leader H.G. Merriam, who expected "A.E." to be a man. As the botanists strive to get along and gather flora unique to the Rocky Mountain area, they encounter the U.S. Cavalry and Native Americans. Disturbed by Professor Merriam's inventive, sometimes nonscientific methods, Dr. Philip Aber of the Smithsonian visits the park to inspect and perhaps close down the project. The troubled Dr. Aber finally wanders off unguided into one of Yellowstone's scalding thermal springs; his death adds to the party's web of tensions. As life in Yellowstone changes her, Miss Bartram must deal with her stiff-necked Cornell mentor, Professor Lester King, whose "black-and-white" thinking she finally comes to reject. Miss Bartram lights up the novel with her admirable intelligence, wit and honest desire to learn from everyone, but Smith wisely prevents her epistles from overwhelming the other characters' voices. Instead, the collage of letters and telegrams produces a Rashomon effectAthe same actions are viewed from many perspectives with no one narrator dominant. Serenely attentive, deliberately paced, as careful with psychology and history as it is with its botany, Smith's epistolary narrative makes a worthy addition to the expanding category of history-of-science novels. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

-Told entirely through correspondence, this fascinating and often funny story tells of a scientific expedition to Yellowstone Park in 1899 to collect samples of its flora and fauna before more tourists trample the park. Howard Merriam, a mild-mannered professor from Montana and a botanist, leads the group. He writes his mother often and in great detail. Before the field crew gathers, a team member unexpectedly drops out, and, in desperation, the professor recruits A. E. Bartram, a medical student with a passion for botany but no professional training. The fact that the "A" stands for Alexandria is only revealed upon her arrival, and the addition of a female to a field crew camping in the wild causes great consternation among the other participants. The colorful lot includes Dr. Andrew Rutherford, an agriculturist looking for plants useful for cultivation and a heavy drinker determined to teach a pet raven to talk; Kim Li, a mediocre Chinese cook; and two undergraduate students who expected a summer vacation. Misadventures both hilarious and frightening occur as the work progresses, and attractive Alex Bartram emerges as a forthright and brave leader and a serious scientist. After many setbacks, the expedition achieves unexpected, if qualified, success. YAs will be caught up in this exciting story of the exploration and exploitation of Yellowstone and will learn of the park's early history, the trials of pioneers in scientific exploration, and the struggle of a woman to achieve respect as a scientist.
Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
An intelligent, beautifully written story.
Ozzie
Highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a little humor with their character development, and is willing to read between the lines.
Rita Nygren
It provides much historical information about the early years in the history of Yellowstone and teaches about botany!
Diana Bagwell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book to take with me on my first trip to Yellowstone National Park recently. It was a perfect book to take along! What struck me most was that it was set at the end of the 19th century which seemed to be a great time of change. It was interesting to be in the park myself about 100 years later and feel how much had changed, yet how much had stayed the same especially in regard to people and our need and concern to protect our National Parks and environment. The book deals more with the human element and some of the plant life but not much with the animal or geologic wonders of the park, but it was highly enjoyable and definately added another element of appreciation to my experience. I only wish the story had continued as I became very attached to the characters in her book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I recently have had the great pleasure of reading Diane Smith's Letters From Yellowstone, and would recommend it without reservation to a wide variety of readers. While I am not normally a fan of epistolary novels, the characters in this work are so compelling the novel is difficult to put aside. This novel should appeal to environmentalists, feminists, naturalists, and other ists who prefer to remain unlabeled, such as I.
It is ostensibly the story of a group of 1898 scientists on an expedition of discovery to catalog the flora and fauna of Yellowstone Park before tourists, the railroad, local entrepreneurs, and poachers destroy it. I say ostensibly, because the expedition is one of self-discovery as much as scientific cataloguing. None of the principals is unchanged by the experience. Additionally, Smith uses this forum to introduce readers to a number of late twentieth century concerns: wildlife management, commercialization of public lands, role of women in sciences. The author's treatment of these topics is not heavy handed, and her careful research shows these concerns are universal, not just limited to a single era.
The novel's primary characters eventually find themselves debating the validity of science in comparison to other systems of knowledge and belief, and their conclusions are rather enlightening to those of who might think we have our position in life all figured out. Unlike numerous other authors who have attempted to express the dialectic of science versus belief, Smith succeeds. She is neither dry, nor pedantic in her characters' discussions.
All this is accomplished against the sublime background of the Northern Rockies.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written book that not only transports the reader to Yellowstone before the onslaught of the current throngs, but also presents the interplay of competing priorities for how this grand natural resource will be managed and used. A must read for those who crave a good story well told, for academics who would appreciate a tongue-in-check look at their world, and for people who wrestle with blending the scientific and humanistic approaches to a problem.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Furshong on December 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Handed to me in passing in a hallway by a good "book" friend who said "read it", I did, and I wasn't disappointed. Mistaken for a a male scientist, A. E. (Alexandra) Bartram is accepted as a member of a Montana State College botany expedition into Yellowstone Park in 1899. The social barriers are eventually overcome and Alex becomes a strong contributing member of this scientific team. But the truly quality of this novel is that the entire story is told through the letters from Yellowstone written by various members of the expedition. There is plenty to write about from budding romance and predatory European nobility to 19th century feminism and the role of science in society. Despite a few lexicographic anachronisms the voices in the letters rang remarkably true. As a native Montanan the descriptions of Yellowstone were accurate and evocative. A great read! Now what should I pass back to my friend in the hallway?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rita Nygren on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
In an era where emails may be the main form of written communication between friends & family, it's worth a look back at what might have been sent through the penny post when telephones weren't around. Can you imagine recieving a 5 page letter from a friend, weekly? And how would you feel when a week went by with no news from that friend? What would you like to hear about from that friend? What would you write?
Not only is this an exploration in letter-writing, (heck, that's very minor, just a means to the end), this book has several very interesting stories. As far as I could tell, it was historically accurate -I had to check to confirm it was fiction.
I enjoyed the play of characters, and how you occassionally saw the same action from different points of view from different people's letters - especially the 4th of July party. Also liked the argument over exact terminology - and how it was won. Highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a little humor with their character development, and is willing to read between the lines.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read this book while vacationing in the Rockies and would have had a hard time finding a better read for the setting. Written as a selection of letters, the novel is easy to pick up to fill a few spare moments of leisure. The letters , written by several different characters in the novel, provide a clever way for the author to change perspectives on the same events. Like Andrea Barrett in Ship Fever and Voyage of the Narwhal, the author treats us to the themes of a woman's stuggle to fulfill her dreams in a man's world, as well as the proper role of science in society. Both the plot and characters are sometimes a bit too quaint, but readers of Jane Austen will find them enjoyable. The book is entertaining while provocative.
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