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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe

3.49  ·  Rating Details  ·  287 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
The year was 1765. Eminent botanist Philibert Commerson had just been appointed to a grand new expedition: the first French circumnavigation of the world. As the ships’ official naturalist, Commerson would seek out resources—medicines, spices, timber, food—that could give the French an edge in the ever-accelerating race for empire.

Jeanne Baret, Commerson’s young mistress a
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 28th 2010 by Crown
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,132)
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Jenny Brown
Jan 20, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it did not like it
This is fiction, not history. Ridley found an intriguing couple of paragraphs about a woman who disguised herself as a man and voyaged around the world, and then, lacking any other primary source material--no word of Barets has survived--Ridley goes on to invent an entire book's worth of narrative, none of it grounded in primary sources.

The book is full of carefully painted scenes describing what Ridley imagines might have happened, down to which berry her subject picked on the shores of Tierra
Linda Robinson
Feb 11, 2012 Linda Robinson rated it really liked it
Jeanne Baret was an unusual woman, not just by 18th century standards, but for any time on earth. Disguising herself as a man for a 3 year trip around the world in a ship roughly the size of a big townhouse, packed to the gunwales with male sailors, servants and officers was an act of bravery or magical thinking or extreme stupidity. We don't know what was in her mind because there are no accounts of her adventure written by her. She's been erased from history. Until this book. Part historical a ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Donna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, read-in-2011
This is certainly an intriguing story. Jeanne Baret was a French peasant herb woman who was also the work collaborator and mistress of botanist Philibert Commerson. In 1765 she disguised herself as a man and set sail with Commerson on an expedition to circumnavigate the globe. The problem with the book is that there is only a tiny amount of real information about these people and their motivations and what really went on onboard the ship. Unfortunately that doesn't stop Ridley from speculating b ...more
Mara Gaulzetti
May 11, 2011 Mara Gaulzetti rated it liked it

I loved reading about this woman, who was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Her life was simply amazing, and although parts of it are so tragically sad, it seems she had a happy ending. The fact that her story is known at all is quite miraculous as there are so few primary sources related to her life. I wish there were more and that the reader could really get to know this amazing woman!

The author does a good job of piecing together scant information to form this story. Some of her informat
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Dec 21, 2011 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
Maybe it is because I now have many wonderful followers of my blog or maybe it is because so many wonderful fellow bloggers leave wonderful comments on my blog posts…well, honestly, I don’t know why, but for some reason I now receive many, many offers of free books to be reviewed. And now, unlike in the past, many, many of these many, many offers of free books are books that are fabulous. And unknown.

My favorite kinds of reads. Small, unknown treasures.

This book is one of those small, unknown t
Jan 11, 2012 Marcie rated it it was amazing
If anyone asked me a month ago what I thought about Jeanne Baret, I would not have known who they were talking about. However after reading The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley I can now say that Jeanne Baret was quite a woman. Jeanne lived in the 1700's. This time in history was not kind to women. Woman were thought of as feeble, unintelligent and impassioned. Jeanne Baret was none of these things. She grew up and lived in France until she met Philibert Commerson and became not only h ...more
Just A. Bean
Mar 22, 2012 Just A. Bean rated it it was ok
Saw this one in Science News and thought I might like it. But then when I got it Dad snaked it, and took forever to read it, and I just got it back last week. It's a non fiction book detailing the life of a French peasant who was, astonishingly, the first woman known to circumnavigate the world. Dad loved it, but I bailed about half way through. The author just couldn't resist editorialising and speculating. I understand that she had extremely limited sources, especially once they left France: s ...more
May 09, 2012 Shoshanah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enter a lot of giveaways for a lot of different books, but this one, which I won from Linda at Silly Little Mischief is one that I think is the "best" win for me. It isn't necessary my favorite our of all the books I won. But when you compare the likelihood of me discovering it on my own with how much I enjoyed it, the payoff is high.

The book is a biographer of Jeanne Baret, a female botanist who dressed as a man, and without much of the world's knowledge became the first woman to circumvent t
Jun 11, 2016 Sara rated it really liked it
This is "real" nonfiction, and so was rather... dry... compared to the last few creative-fiction-slash-fiction-about-real-people books I've read.
It was a very well-researched book about a woman who performed an admirable feat (especially back then, but even these days), a woman who has mostly been lost to history but who shouldn't have been. I learned a lot, but it definitely didn't have the emotional draw of Under the Wide and Starry Sky or Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.
Kate  K. F.
Dec 17, 2012 Kate K. F. rated it liked it
When I began this book, I was quickly drawn in by the story of Jeanne Baret who was an herbwoman in France who circumnavigated the globe with Bouganvillea's expedition. The writing is well researched and Ridley knows how to make the past approachable, yet I finished this book feeling unsure. My uncertainty is due to how Ridley presents the discovery of Baret's sex during the journey as she puts a modern reading of the historical sources. This can be important but as most of the book is spent exp ...more
While Jeanne Baret is a fascinating subject and admirable heroine for any woman, the execution of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe suffers as Glynis Ridley interjects too much supposition for a woman who left virtually no paper trail. No one could possibly know her thoughts or her feelings, and yet that is precisely how Ms. Ridley fills the pages. There is a bit too much reading between the lines on firsthand accoun ...more
Jul 10, 2014 Breanne rated it really liked it
Probably because I'm more into gardening, the thoughts from this book recently popped into my mind. Jeanne Baret is a woman botanist and made many scientific contributions to many places on her voyage. Super interesting read.
Fascinating and dramatic narrative history of the first French-sponsored circumnavigation of the globe, of which 1 person was a woman--Jeanne Baret--disguised as a man. I wish I could say hilarious hijinks ensue, but there is nothing hilarious about them. The quest for botanical treasures and new land for the French empire have remained to Western history, but Glynis Ridley does a phenomenal job in recreating this woman amongst "civilized" men and "noble" savages, though much of it is psychologi ...more
Bit of a shame to give this book only 3 stars as it isn't that bad. I learned a lot. It's wonderfully peppered with historical facts and I liked that about it, and it was written just fine. My major issue with it was the accuracy. It had the feel of a book where the author only had limited research material to go off and therefore imagined, speculated and surmised the rest. She took small snippets of information and built whole fabricated stories around them.
The book was plied with guess work a
Well, I'm conflicted here. This is a truly fascinating book about a woman previously unknown to me. It's full of adventure and plants and seawater and drama. And it is...true?

But here's the conflict: I would love to believe every interpretation Ridley makes, but a lot of her narrative hinges on what looks to me as very flimsy evidence, particularly the "love gift" herbal whose my eyes...looks very like the handwriting on the early herbal done by Jeanne's friend/employer/lover/wh
Kristi Thielen
May 27, 2014 Kristi Thielen rated it really liked it
Short, very readable book about a woman many people have never heard of before: Jeanne Baret, a French-born herb woman/botanist, who was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She made the trip in 1765 when she traveled on a French ship with her mentor/lover Philibert Commerson to seek out spices, medicines and other natural resources.

Baret disguised herself as a man - the success of which is disputed by written recollections of various men who traveled with her - and endured tremendous p
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 23, 2015 dejah_thoris rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Another divided book review, just like the last one of hers.

On the plus side, this is an interesting story that Ridley keeps moving in a modern, narrative fashion. She does a good job with supporting sources because little of Baret is directly known as records about non-aristocratic women from this era are scarce. As for the primary sources, she manages to nail down the basic facts about Baret's life, her life at sea, and how she was stranded for the latter portion of her trip until she decided
Dec 01, 2014 Susan rated it liked it
In 1765 the first French expedition to circumnavigate the globe sailed for South America. Aboard was botanist Philibert Commerson who decided he could not do without his assistant, Jeanne Baret, who had grown up an impoverished peasant but exceptionally knowledgeable in herb lore. Since women crew members were forbidden, she had to disguise herself as a man and the title refers to the discovery by the crew of her sex as well as the reconstruction of the story of this unbelievably tough heroine o ...more
Patty King
Mar 06, 2015 Patty King rated it really liked it
“But how was it possible to discover the woman in the indefatigable Baret, who was already an expert botanist, had followed his master in all his botanical walks, amidst the snows and frozen mountains of the Strait of Magellan, and even on such troublesome excursions carried provisions, arms, and herbals, with so much courage and strength, that the naturalist had called him his beast of burden?”


A fascinating read about a woman pretending to be a man in order to be part of a botanic
Fran Fisher
A wonderful story!

Jeanne Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She traveled as a botanical assistant on a French scientific expedition, partially disguised as a man. Those facts alone are enough to keep this reader interested. She was, in all probability, a healer, familiar with plants and their effects, who took up with Commerson, a higher class of French, and an actual scientifically educated person. Their partnership took on as many dimensions as a kaliedoscope might offer, e
Hilary Lang Greenebaum
Interesting read about extraordinary woman in the 18th century. She dressed like a man, was a female botanist in a male dominated world,and a working class woman who traveled around the world - how empowering! The book was written at times in a humorous chatty style and the author explained everything (eg parts of the ship). No comment as to the verity of the research, I read it for the story which is based upon stories written in journals. Some evidence to the paper trail especially at the end. ...more
Romantical Skeptic
Jul 24, 2015 Romantical Skeptic rated it liked it
This is a cool topic for an article, not really an entire book. The trouble is that there is very little in the way of firsthand account (letters, documents, diaries etc) that could “prove” any of the things that Ridley is talking about. So when she says Baret was a passionate botanist – well, we don’t really know that do we? We do know a few facts about where she was and what she did, but nothing at all about her personality or feelings.

So here’s what I “know”: there was this woman in the 1700
The Discovery of Jeanne Baret tells the tale of an extraordinary woman who embarks on a journey through a world not usially thought of as male-dominated, the world of botany. On this journey the peasent-born Jeanne disguises herself as a man on a two year long expedition around the world to document plantlife.

I was taken in by Jeanne from the beginning. Here is a woman who is both clever and resourceful, and who completely changes her life from what it "should" have been.
I could easily imagine
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jan 14, 2012 Lori L (She Treads Softly) rated it it was amazing
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 t ...more
Apr 12, 2013 Ruth rated it liked it
Recommended to Ruth by: book club
I gave this book three stars because I'm still glad I read it and learned about (another) woman written out of the history books. The writing itself, however, deserved two stars. I had such high hopes for The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, but unfortunately the book did not deliver. The author is a college level English professor, not an historian, and it shows. Like other commenters before me have mentioned, this would have been a great work of historical fiction. Instead, it is a mediocre work of ...more
Jan 16, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
In 1765, King Louis XV ordered the first French expedition around the world. Philibert Commerson was appointed the voyage's botanist and charged with discovering medicines, spices and other resources. No women were allowed on ships on this kind of voyage but Commerson's mistress, twenty-six year old Jeanne Baret managed to come aboard posing as Commerson's young male assistant. She was able to keep the ruse up for quite a while but eventually it all fell apart. Even so, she was the first woman t ...more
Apr 13, 2012 Sabina rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 inc ...more
Feb 27, 2012 Al rated it it was ok
The biography of a cross-dressing plant-loving globe-circling (but unfortunately man-dependent) Frenchwoman in the mid-1700s.

Ridley makes a disappointing number of suppositions and then runs with those suppositions, basing large chunks of later information on what she is merely assuming might have happened. She also ascribes thoughts and feeling to Baret that simply cannot be confirmed. Despite a few such catches, Ridely writes an engaging biography that I picked up and read all the way through
I won this in the First Reads giveaway. I requested the book because I am usually interested in historical women that accomplished things outside of what was expected or valued for women. Jeanne Baret was born a French peasant and was taught to be an herb woman. Through providing herbs for doctors and such like, she met the famed botanist Philibert Commerson. She became his lover and bore him a son. He decided in 1765 to travel the world and investigate the flora of different places and she deci ...more
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