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on September 29, 1999
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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on August 4, 1999
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. The action of the novel moves at the pace of a northern summer: days seem to last forever, but the summer season lasts scarcely more than two months. Despite delays and reverses in fortune, the party moves along with an inexorable drive brought on by the knowledge of the fleeting field season. While not an adventure, this book is nevertheless a page turner. Read Letters From Yellowstone while the summer is still here. You won't regret it.
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on December 8, 2000
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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on August 24, 1999
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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on December 28, 2000
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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on July 25, 2013
One of the gifts of reading fiction is being able to see issues from many points of view through the way different characters think and talk about them. This is especially true of a book like this, written in epistolary form, where each character speaks in the first person through letters they write. Although this book stretches that form a little, having characters report entire dialogs in letters, something even the inveterate letter-writers of the turn of the century (19th-20th) might not have bothered to do, it's fascinating to see differing points of view expressed on issues that are still being discussed today: What is the proper role of women in a previously male-dominated world? What is the true nature and the best way to practice science? If a natural park is supposed to both preserve its natural state and be for the use of all the people, how can that balance best be maintained? It's even more illuminating to see how individuals thrown together in the intensity of a whole summer camping and working in the wilderness (though close to civilization in the form of already-established hotels) learn from each other, grow in their personal views, and become friends in spite of their wide differences in the beginning. It's also interesting to witness how their former colleagues visiting from the East are shocked and horrified by their wilderness endeavors to the point of leaving in both humorous and tragic ways. Even secondary characters of various kinds, typical of the time and the place, are drawn into their activities and remain memorable when the book is completed. I highly recommend this short book!
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on August 8, 1999
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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on May 7, 2014
This is a series of letters. At first I was confused by who was writing to whom, mostly because of the formal way they addressed the letters to each other. After I had the people straight the letters were discriptive and colorful. The characters were full and their experiences fun to read about.

And even in 1898 there were a lot of strong interesting women, out in the world doing unique things. Not a hard book, but a pleasant book. Read it.
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on April 17, 2001
The format of the book (all letters) doesn't provide the reader with all the answers - you have to *think* - it's great and not an everyday reading experience.
You witness the progression of the story and the personal growth of characters through their own words. And history's in the making, only the letter-writers don't know that!
Well done. Highly recommended.
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on July 30, 2015
If you're looking for a fictional story with well developed plot and characters, this is not for you.

If you would like to know more about the development of a botanical collection and the early history of Yellowstone National Park do pick up this book. How close did we come to having major railroads crisscross the park?

How did a woman come to have a major role in the development of the system of botanical collections?
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