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The Mapmaker's Wife

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,391 ratings  ·  270 reviews
A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon

The year is 1735. A decade-long expedition to South America is launched by a team of French scientists racing to measure the circumference of the earth and to reveal the mysteries of a little-known continent to a world hungry for discovery and knowledge. From this extraordinary journey arose an unlikely love between on
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 2005 by Delta (first published April 13th 2004)
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This was a fairly satisfying account of a French scientific expedition to the Andes in the 1730s with exploration of the Amazon added to its end. It helpfully filled in some gaps in my understanding of how the monopoly of the Spanish on South American colonialism gave substantial ground to the Portuguese but only a little to French incursion. The story of the Quito wife of one of the party, Isabel Godin, taking a journey across the Andes and down the Amazon to reach her husband is only a medium ...more
I highly recommend The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon, but not to everyone. The title and the book description may give the impression that the central theme of the book is a love story. That is false. Part of the book is certainly a wonderful adventure story about a woman who travels practically alone through the Amazon basin to reach her husband stranded in French Guiana, but this portion of the boo takes up only the last seventy pages. The love story ...more
A Title in Search of a Book - Alas, the title bears little resemblance to the material betwixt sensational front cover illustration and blurb-infested back cover. Once again, I smell the publishing world's eternal quest for a best-seller at work. This is no Longitude, try as the publishers might to try to cast it into that role.

It is, however, a decently written account of a French scientific expedition to the New World in 1735. Its mission was to measure several arcs of latitude and thus prove
It's a delightful book, even though the title misrepresents what it really is about. The mapmaker's wife, Isabel Godin, occupies less than half of its pages and, even though her story is a very interesting one, it's part of an even more colourful story of the French Academy of Sciences expedition into the Andes to divine the shape and circumference of the Earth.
Without giving too much away, let me just say that Isabel Godin wasn't a mapmaker's wife, either. She was the wife of one of the assista
Clare O'Beara
I found this an engrossing read, focusing on the exploits of a team of French mapmakers in recently colonised South America, and a woman who took her destiny into her own hands in order to be reunited with her husband.

We get a very good look at the then-impenetrable jungles and broad path of the Amazon through this territory. Just about all travel was by river. An international expedition was sent to discover the shape of the Earth at the Equator, to settle opposing theories about whether it bu
The Mapmaker's Wife intrigued me - the journey of Isabel Godin across the Amazonian jungle to be reunited with her husband after 20 long years. Yet, it wasn't what I was expecting. After a brief mention of Isabel (still a child in the convent), Robert Whitaker plunges into the tale of the French Expedition to Peru to determine the shape of the globe. I almost gave up reading the book as, in meticulous detail, he explains the back story to the expedition. I'm glad I didn't because after a slow st ...more
I've been excitedly buzzing about this book the whole time I was reading it, so I'm afraid that my 3-star rating threw at least one friend for a loop. So I'm going to do my best to explain what might, in the end, come down to that whole "stars are relative" issue. Also, I'm going to risk bringing down the wrath of my office roomie by saying that it's really more of a 3.5. (And now we'll see if he really reads my reviews!)

Anyway. I really liked this book. I went in half expecting a dry, slow slog
Nancy Oakes
The Mapmaker's Wife is a history of scientific exploration, as well as a story of one woman's survival through the Amazon rainforest; the best parts of this book were the descriptions of Isabel Grameson-Godin's journey alone through the Amazon. I was really drawn to this section of the book; sadly it just didn't last long enough!

The book begins in 1769, with Isabel (nee Grameson) Godin deciding that it was time she make the journey down the Amazon to meet her husband. Jean Godin was a part of a
Mar 19, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The book's subtitle is A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon. It is actually a pretext for stringing together an endless diatribe about the debate about how to measure the size and shape of the world, the conquest of the New World, and political intrigues among the Spanish governors in the Americas, plus a million tangents thrown in for good measure. Isabel Grameson's story is a mere pretext, and it hardly figures in the book at all. Worse yet, I could not help but ask myself w ...more
Marythios (AkaSusanne )
This book is about a scientific and exploratory expedition carried out in the 1730s and 40s by the French. It is about the Spanish conquest of South America, conquistadors, Hernando Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. It is about the conquest of the Aztecs and the Incas. It is about the plants and animals and minerals and gems found around Quito and the upper stretches of the Amazon. In the pages of this book you will find a lot of history and information about both Spanish and native South American b ...more
Laurie Buchanan
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Whitaker's writing style made feel like I was IN the story, not just reading it. The pendulum swings both ways in the recounting of this harrowing, real-life adventure. At times it caused goosebumps on my arms; at others, it brought tears to my eyes. A combination of mystery, love story, and thriller, I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you read the title of this book and the summary on the back, you're going to be very surprised at the story. While there is a mapmaker's wife, a murder, and survival stories in the book, it's mostly about how the French went about measuring latitude in Peru!

I happen to be very interested in science so I found this fascinating, but I can't imagine that most people would and that is reflected in a lot of the reviews. The first two-thirds of the book is devoted to their 8 years trying to measur
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Slowly it's becoming clearer to me that non-fiction books, based on fascinating true life characters or great adventures are more appealing to my current stage in life than just another made up tale. The title character, although she isn't actually present for most of the book, is absolutely fascinating. I can't give any of Isabel's story away, but it is one of the most incredible and amazing I've ever read. This woman, who grew up as a pampered second generation Spaniard (known as Creole, even ...more
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was enjoyable. The writing and research was good. The first few chapters give a vast, and well done, history of latitude and longitude in the search for knowledge of the size of our world (and shape for that matter). I, being a tired mom of 4 under 4, wasn’t sure I was quite up for 350 pages of this though. But then he gets to the exploration of the Amazon (I’m a sucker for stories of these usual failures) and the aggressive environment they find themselves trapped in and it flowed simply f ...more
Lauren Hiebner
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome story of early 1700s in Ecuador, the French explorers and their struggles. But also about perseverance in the jungles of Ecuador by one woman.
Wendy Miller
A very interesting story, however the title is a bit misleading as most of the book is about the explorers/ map makers in Peru vs. Isabel’s experience.
Erin Van Rheenen
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm always impressed (and a little suspicious) when an author can make history read like a novel. That's not what Robert Whitaker does in The Mapmaker's Wife, which for me was both a relief and a disappointment.

The author doesn't deform history for the sake of a good story. This is a meticulously researched book about the French scientific expedition to South America in the early 1700s to make measurements near the equator that would reveal the size and shape of the earth. The bibliography is t
High Plains Library District
If you examine the subtitle of this book, A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon, you may find yourself expecting a pulse-pounding suspense tale ripped right out of history. That’s not strictly true, and I want to be up-front with you because the truth of the matter is that this is a really good book, and I suspect that more than one person has been turned off when it didn’t meet their expectations.

There is, in fact, a murder. There’s also a love story and a pretty impressive st
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tells a really amazing story. A scientific expedition from France heads to Peru where each member of the team undergoes sometimes unbelievable hardships in pursuit of their research. But the most amazing story of all, to my mind, is the title story: one of the French scientists marries a local girl (and at 13 she was a girl), who, twenty three years later sets off across the Amazon to be reunited with him.

I would not want to trek the Amazon today, and if I did I would have the luxury
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
It's a keeper, a book worth sharing - "Mapmaker's Wife" - but not everyone will think so. Please don't be misled by titles: this one's certainly not the typical romance. If your tastes tend more toward the " vicarious pleasure of the voyeur " in contemporary or popular fiction ... just keep looking, there's so much to choose from now.

But if you are one to welcome an occasional more 'scholarly' read with a bit of research behind it. You will discover a bit more to appreciate and be challenged by
Oct 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was fascinating. It tells the story of a French expedition to South America in 1735 to measure the circumference of the earth and decide a controversy on the exact shape of the earth. The first half of the book tells about the members of the expedition and what they go through in the inhospitable regions of the Andes to accomplish this goal. There's a lot about measuring and making maps but it was quite interesting. One member of the group marries a Peruvian noblewoman and they are then sep ...more
Marge Rudman
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 60% of this book is hardly about the Mapmaker's wife at all. Rather it is an engaging and surprisingly interesting account of a scientific expedition from France to Peru for the purpose of measuring the earth at the equator and determining the, at that time disputed, shape of the earth. As is usually (always?) the case, the hardships they survived and the ingenuity employed against the problems they met are mind boggling to the modern reader in her comfortable armchair. Along the way t ...more
May 24, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's a fast read and the underlying story is great, but the portrayal of eighteenth-century Europe and South America verges on the sloppy (for example, on page 78 there are two references to wild peacocks inhabiting the forests of Panama, The same goes for suggestions that the chivalric romances enjoyed by sixteenth-century conquistadors are key to understanding Andean society two hundred years later.) The Mapmaker's Wife is an enjoyable introduction to the La Condamine expedition, b ...more
Sarah Sammis
I love books about cartography but this one was supposedly about a woman's trip across South America because her cartographer husband was being reassigned. That bit is there but there is also a lot of other loosely associated history about South American, cartography and other stuff. In other words, it lacks focus.
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book about the Amazon of a woman who would just not give up, was kindly helped by natives to continue her amazing journey. She and her husband were separated by some 21 years, but that didn't stop their love for one another! Amazing story, and was hard to put down...
Roisin Cure
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are many ways to die if you walk through the Amazon jungle.

I am very lucky to have a brother with great taste in books, who frequently sends them to me in the post after he's read them. A lot of the books he sends centre on the 18th century - he's a history nut and it's his favourite century by far. He sent me The Mapmaker's Wife ten years ago, and I enjoyed it so much I bought a copy for my father.

As I was finishing The Mapmaker's Wife, it happened that some Brazilian guys were doing a b
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1735, a expedition to South America is undertaken by a group of French scientists and their assistants with the purpose of measuring the circumference of the earth. This led to a ten-year-long trek through South America (principally in the Quito region) in which the Frenchmen made valuable scientific discoveries and experienced many adventures.

In 1741, one of the signal carriers, Jean Godin, married a thirteen-year-old Peruvian noblewoman, Isabel Gramesón. In 1749, Godin was still in Peru wit

The research that went into this book is noticeable. The author goes into great detail about the history of South America, different explorers and conquistadors, peoples such as the Incas, and more. If you read this, you will learn a lot of facts about how the Earth's shape was measured, specifically a group of French academicians who embarked on an expedition to Peru that took multiple years. This is something I never learned about in school and had never heard about until picking up this bo
Anson Cassel Mills
As many others have noted, this book by science journalist Robert Whitaker has less to do with a mapmaker’s wife than about the various scientific investigations—botanical and geographic as well as physical—of the French Geodesic Mission to Ecuador during the 1730s in what proved to be a successful effort to determine whether the circumference of the Earth was greater at the Equator or at the poles. I imagine discussions at the publishers about how such a nerdy story could be sold to general rea ...more
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meh. The title and the book jacket sold me a gripping story: love! murder! survival! And the back of the book promised an epic love story and the attention of all of Europe. All of this is exaggeration. Sure, they loved each other, if for no other reason than that they waited for each other and made it back to each other. There WAS an unrelated murder of someone in the expedition. Isabel survived. As for the attention of all of Europe, they could barely get the attention of colonial officials wh ...more
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There is more than one author in the Goodreads catalog with this name. This entry is for Robert {2^} Whitaker, medical and science writer.

Robert Whitaker, a journalist, writes primarily about medicine and science. He is the author of four books: Mad in America, The Mapmaker's Wife, On the Laps of Gods and Anatomy of an Epidemic.

His newspaper and magazine articles on the mentally ill and the pharma

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