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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by [Ridley, Glynis]
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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An 18th-century peasant expert in countryside herb lore, Jeanne Baret posed as a young man to gain the post of assistant to the naturalist aboard France's first global seafaring expedition in the 1760s. Ridley (Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe) quickly crushes modern romantic ideas of the golden age of exploration: there were rat-scrounging days of starvation and crowded quarters, and significant abuse suffered by Baret at the hands of crew members who at first suspected, and eventually learned, her sex. Since Baret left no memoirs, Ridley carefully parses the few written accounts of the expedition, while occasionally making assumptions about her emotions and acts. Baret's harrowing journey also included scientific discoveries, such as of a plant--named bougainvillea in honor of the expedition's commander--which she believed would cure gangrene, and a Patagonian shrub to help treat the crew's rampant venereal disease. Ridley captures both the optimism that inspired Baret's groundbreaking and courageous trip and the sordid reality she encountered. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Ridley’s mission is to resurrect forgotten yet significant episodes in the emerging field of life sciences during Europe’s age of enlightenment. Following her distinctive first book, Claras Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe (2005), she takes on the thrilling and incensing story of Jeanne Baret. Born in 1740 in France’s Loire valley, Baret became an expert “herb woman” who proved to be indispensable to the ambitious botanist Philibert Commerson, accompanying him as his assistant when Commerson was appointed naturalist for France’s first expedition to circumnavigate the globe. But women were forbidden, so Baret dressed as a man. Could she really fool the 330 men she lived with under grueling circumstances for three years? After tracking down and analyzing every scrap of paper pertaining to this historic voyage, Ridley tells the horrific story of Baret’s brutal outing and reclaims with vigor Baret’s discoveries as a pioneering botanist, including the flowering vine now known as bougainvillea, which Commerson named after the expedition commander, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. Woven throughout this gripping story are Ridley’s piquant insights into eighteenth-century exploration, botany, taxonomy, biopiracy, and sexism. Baret could not have asked for a more exacting and expressive champion. Ridley is incandescent in her passion for the truth. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 3391 KB
  • Print Length: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (December 28, 2010)
  • Publication Date: December 28, 2010
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003EJDGHI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #969,786 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was hoping for a story that was equal parts botany, voyaging, and the intrigue of concealing one's gender in the confines of a relatively small ship. Unfortunately, it is primarily about the latter.

The author imputes so many thoughts and actions to the main character, Baret, as well as captain Bougainville and her master, Commerson, that it almost feels like a novel at times. Other authors might have used the same source material and come with an entirely different character and story line.

At one point she accuses historians of essentially sticking to the facts as presented in the various journals that exist rather than reporting "what so clearly happened." In other words, although there is no evidence to support her hypothesis, we readers are supposed to accept the author's opinion as the obvious truth. If this sounds vague it's that I don't wish to interject a spoiler. All I will say is that after reading the source material which she quotes, I could just have easily accepted the source version of the events as what in the author's mind "clearly did happen."

Once the author takes the leap of faith in her theory she proceeds to base the rest of the story on it as if it were fact, going so far to use the lack of support in any of the journals as proof of a conspiracy to conceal the "truth" of the dastardly event. She even puts thoughts in Bougainville's mind as to decisions he made but shared with no one, not even his journal. The length of the chain of supporting suppositions becomes truly amazing. Essentially, it is a house of cards, pull one out and it all falls down.

The author seems quite content to make up or assume facts in other areas as well.
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Format: Hardcover
The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by Glynis Ridley introduces Jeanne Baret, a young woman who was an expert in herb-lore. She posed as a young man in order to assist her lover, the naturalist Philibert Commerson, on French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville's round-the-world expedition from 1766-69. This is a fascinating account of that trip and the oversight history has dealt Baret - ignoring her contributions to Commerson's work, as well as her abuse during that voyage.

Ridley's The Discovery of Jeanne Baret is a well researched portrayal of what likely occurred during the expedition based on the few written documented facts available. Because a French Royal ordinance forbade women being on French Navy ships, Baret had to disguise her sex in order to assist Commerson. In her disguise, whether it was truly fooling anyone or not, Baret worked harder than many men and most certainly harder than Commerson.

Ridley points out that Baret very likely discovered many or most of the plants on the expedition. She certainly discovered the bougainvillea plant, which was named for named for the ship's commander. The one plant named after Baret during the trip has since shed her name.

While Ridley does have to make some assumptions, I felt like they were very likely accurate ones, based on the information and this period of history. Certainly it must be acknowledged that Baret's major contributions to Commerson's work have been largely ignored until now and, additionally, that this was not a kind period of time for women.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret is not only well researched, it is well written.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a novelist and historian interested in crossdressing women aboard ships in the age of sail, I was glad to find a serious book about Jeanne Baret -- French botanist Commercon's crossdressing assistant/lover/housekeeper who accompanied him on Bouganville's expedition -- France's first circumnavigation. The author used the memoirs and first hand accounts of the French officers which in many cases are open to interpretation. While the author's interpretations are quite plausible, her credibility would have been maintained if she would have been more clear when she was relating fact, when she was quoting from the officers' accounts, and when she was projecting her own interpretations, which are valid. There aren't any direct footnotes so I found it difficult to trace the exact source for some of her conclusions. I kept flipping to the notes at the end, but since they were very generalized, I was left feeling confused in some places. For instance, the alleged gang rape. Was Jeanne Baret gang-raped or was she made to reveal herself? I don't think we know for sure. The author makes a good case but presents it as indisputable. This is unfortunate since it detracts from an otherwise worthy account. Ridley has obviously done much research and sheds new light on Jeanne Baret, a remarkable person in her own right, and the voyage she was an integral part of. Also, it can't be known for certain that she was the first female to circumnavigate since there may have been "comfort women", prostitutes, or crossdressing seamen on previous circumnavigations. She is the first known woman to circumnavigate. A subtle difference but a correct one. Still, this is an important book about a woman on a ship in the age of sail. Just read it with a critical eye.
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