This was a fascinating book with a misleading title. The book revolves around a French expedition in the 1770's to accurately measure longitude at the equator. It is amazing what difficulties scientists faced and overcame to arrive at conclusions which we take for granted today. The tale of Isabel Godin only comes into play at the end of the book, and, at no time is her husband, Jean Godin, a mapmaker. He was the signal carrier for the expedition and he constructed a grammar of the language of the native Americans, but he was not a mapmaker. Nevertheless, this was a well-researched and well-told story.
Thomas G. (TOMIJO54) reviewed The Mapmaker's Wife : A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon on
Helpful Score: 3
The author does take a long time in the back story; nearly half the book is dedicated to telling the story of the scientific expedition that brought the mapmaker and his wife together in the first place. But, as a lover of both science and history, I found that part of the narrative thoroughly engaging and well paced. While I have encountered short descriptions of the French expedition in other contexts, I learned much more from the detailed and lively account this book gives. In fact, the book has inspired me to look for other accounts as well.
What is remarkable from a modern standpoint is the realization of how much these people and so many others like them who were and are pioneers and explorers endured and suffered to reach their individual goals, whether scientific or personal. We do not, in this remarkably comfortable age, have anywhere near the concept of determination, courage, and sacrifice as did these men and women. This was life lived on its sharpest most bitter edge against awesome odds for incredible stakes. And our world knowledge today rests squarely on their shoulders.
Equally compelling is the depth of love and bond that drove both Jean and Isabel to such lengths in the hope of reuniting after so long a separation. After reading this book, the words of Hawkeye in Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans, seem so hollow. "I will find you!" he says and does so after a few days of hard running. No mean feat I suppose, but Isabel Grameson makes those words resound from a nearly bottomless heart of desire and tenacity, her very lack of jungle skills making her achievement that much more remarkable. This is a book I will keep.
Apart from a tantalizing glimpse of her at the very beginning of this book, you won't encounter much about the "mapmaker's wife" until halfway through the book. Then, her harrowing tale is engrossing, and I found myself thinking about her courage long after I finished reading.
But the first part of the book, that sets the stage for what follows, is engrossing in its own way. It recounts the history of an expedition to Peru that rivals the travels of Lewis and Clark in North America. This is the science of the Enlightenment at work, struggling against both nature and man to find the truth.