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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of…

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the… (2010)

by Glynis Ridley

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A basic biography of Jeanne Baret would have been excellent, but Ridley's speculative readings of many of the source documents goes a bit too far for my taste; she leaps to certain conclusions that I'm just not sure the original materials warrant, even if read with a (much-warranted) skeptical eye. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 30, 2016 |
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. I would imagine that anyone interested in botany and historical biographies would certainly enjoy this account, but I also felt it is a narrative that would be very accessible to anyone. I know I thoroughly enjoyed this historical overview of Baret's life.

As is my wont, I fully appreciate that Ridley includes eight pages of pictures, an afterword to the paperback edition, notes and references for each chapter, notes on source materials and illustrations, sources and a select bibliography, acknowledgements, an index, and a reader's guide.

Very Highly Recommended - it's early in the year but this may make the top nonfiction list by the end of the year. I enjoyed it immensely. http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

Disclosure: I was given a copy of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Crown Publishing Group for review purposes.
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  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
This is the story of Jeanne Baret, a young woman who, disguised as a man, joined a French expedition in 1765 and became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She was the mistress of the expedition's offical naturalist, Philibert Commerson, and, crucially, had a lot of botanical knowledge herself due to her profession as a herb woman. She contributed a lot to Commerson's success, a contribution which went competely unacknowledged. Her life among some 300-odd men on board must have been incredibly hard and it seems her identity was suspected early on. However, although I'm not denying Baret's undoubted achievements, and despite the author's constant efforts to make me like her subject, I could not find much sympathy for her. Baret abandoned her newborn son at an orphanage, chosing her lover over her child, and no matter how much the author tried to gloss this over, it tainted the story for me.

That aside, this is a scholarly examination of an expedition, it's background and the emerging natural sciences. There is an incredible amount of information about the times, the customs, the age of sail and science and I certainly learned a lot. If you're looking for a swashbuckling adventure story you will be disappointed.

The book includes a comprehensive bibliography, however the notes are brief and not annotated, which I found disappointing. As there is very little known about Jeanne Baret, there is necessarily a lot of supposition and it isn't always clear which is which. Overall, it was an informative and interesting read. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
“The Discovery of Jeanne Baret” (Crown Publishers, 2010), by Glynis Ridley, describes another fearless woman. Jeanne Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. To do that, she disguised herself as the male assistant to a plant-hunter – also her lover – and they both sailed on a French vessel under the command of French admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Readers who’d like to find out how that journey went, will have to read Ridley’s book. All I will tell you for now is that during that voyage, Jeanne, a self-taught botanist herself, discovered a vine we now call bougainvillea. ( )
  svetlanagrobman | Mar 2, 2015 |
One of those little gems you stumble upon occassionally without any prior warning, but turn out to be so enriching. A really gripping tale of a young woman in 18th century France, intelligent and desperate for learning, but prevented by her sex and lowly station in life from ever fulfilling her potential. So she seizes her chance when the wealthy dilettante whose mistress she has become is offered a position upon a major scientific expedition to the South Seas. She disguises herself as a boy and boards the ship as her lover's assistant and embarks on a voyage a woman in that time could only dream about. She pays a high price for her temerity. predictably perhaps, her imposture is discovered, and she is raped by a group of sailors, which results in her becoming pregnant. But she survives the voyage and makes her way home, and lives to a ripe old age. A really amazing, and well-written story about someone that very few people will have ever heard about. Highly recommended. ( )
  drmaf | Aug 6, 2013 |
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In a deeply researched and engagingly written narrative of science, adventure, love, and an unprecedented voyage of discovery, Ridley reveals the true story of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

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