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Letters from Yellowstone Hardcover – July 1, 1999
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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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This charming epistolary novel tells the stories of Alexandria Bartram as she collects plant...Read more