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Advance Praise for The Mapmaker's Wife:

“As enthralling as any epic novel. Full of mystery and danger, bravery and tragedy, with a rapturous love story at its core that transcends both time and continents. A marvelous read.” 
        Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River
“An exemplary narrative history and a fascinating tale of science, love and survival. Returns Isabel Gramesón to her rightful place at the front rank of Amazonian explorers.”
         Mark Honigsbaum, author of The Fever Trail

“In the brilliant tradition of Dava Sobel’s Longitude and Ken Alder’s The Measure of All Things, Robert Whitaker’s book places the scientific discovery of terrestrial distances within a gripping human drama, where science, society, and the human heart are entertwined. Whitaker combines powerful story-telling with excellent historical research, in a book that reads like a novel.”
        Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams and Reunion: A Novel


Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)
Science journalist Whitaker (Mad in America, 2002, etc.) begins in 1769, when Isabel Godin took her first steps on a journey down the Amazon River to meet husband Jean, who some two decades earlier had been one of a group of French scientists seeking to determine the exact shape of the Earth by measuring a degree of longitude near the equator in what was then Peru.

As with other Spanish colonies of the time, Peruvians of Spanish descent maintained an iron control over the lower classes of Indian or mixed heritage. The Frenchmen, at first welcomed as representatives of European culture, inevitable ran afoul of local prejudices, which led to one member of the expedition being murdered in broad daylight. High altitude and primitive conditions impeded the scientists' measurements, which took seven years to complete. Meanwhile, Jean Godin, a young assistant, had married Isabel Gramesón, the daughter of a prominent local family. When the expedition leaders returned to Europe, Godin stayed behind.

After falling into financial difficulties, he traveled to French Guiana, where for 20 years he called upon the king (or anyone else who would listen) to bail him out. Meanwhile, Isabel stayed with her family, raising a daughter who died without ever seeing her father.

When Godin sent for his wife at last, she set off down the Amazon. The journey was a nightmare. Isabel, who probably had never spent a night outdoors, was stranded in the jungle. Two of her brothers died, as did those of her servants who had not already abandoned her. Whitaker brings forward a wealth of detail to throw both the scientific and social history into sharp relief.

Indeed, he makes Isabel's ordeal so vivid that her rescue, reunion with Godin, and journey with him to France come almost as an anticlimax.

A great story, deftly told.

Publishers Weekly
As was customary for girls from elite families in 18th-century colonial Peru, Isabel Grames n was barely a teenager when she married Jean Godin, a Frenchman visiting the territory as an assistant on a scientific expedition. Planning to bring his wife back to France, Godin trekked across South America to check in with the French colonial authorities, but was refused permission to return up the Amazon back into Spanish territory to retrieve Isabel. So they remained a continent apart for 20 years until 1769, when Isabel started making her way east. Her party ran aground on the Bobonaza River (which feeds into the Amazon), and though almost everyone perished, she managed to survive alone in the rainforest for weeks. Although science journalist Whitaker doesn't directly refer to his own modern trek following Isabel's route down the Bobonaza, his descriptions of the conditions she would have encountered convey his familiarity with the territory, often quite viscerally, ("There are giant stinging ants, ants that bite, and ants that both bite and sting"). His account of the French expedition that brought Godin to Peru and then separated him from his new wife is equally vivid, with exhilarating discoveries and petty squabbles-and richly illustrated with contemporary drawings. Though an early, long digression tracing the history of attempts to measure the size of the earth may establish the context a little too solidly, making some readers impatient, they'll certainly be hooked once the story really begins. Isabel and Jean's adventures are riveting enough on their own, and colonial South America's largely unfamiliar history adds another compelling layer to this well-crafted yarn. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Apr.) Forecast: Whitaker's book deserves a large audience, and it will benefit from an author tour, ad campaign and NPR feature campaign. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Book Sense (May pick)
The stuff of fiction, except this romantic and adventurous tale is a true story of a husband and wife separated for 20 years in the 18th century world of the Amazon jungle. It will captivate the reader with its dramatic twists and non-stop action showing the tenacity of the human spirit.

The Bookseller (Selected as one of the best new titles for June, 2004)
Europe was spellbound and awestruck in the mid 1700s by an amazing story of love and endurance. This story is brought to life by Robert Whitaker in The Mapmaker's Wife . . . History such as this is a very marketable commodity with adventure, intrigue and love all intertwined.