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Servants of the Map

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,194 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Ranging across two centuries, and from the western Himalaya to an Adirondack village, these wonderfully imagined stories and novellas travel the territories of yearning and awakening, of loss and unexpected discovery. A mapper of the highest mountain peaks realizes his true obsession. A young woman afire with scientific curiosity must come to terms with a romantic fantasy. ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2002)
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I discovered Andrea Barrett through Ship Fever: Stories, a collection of stories which won the National Book Award in 1996. For some reason I thought that I'd be reading science-fiction, but what I got instead was fiction about science - a rare breed, which I'll hopefully get to reviewing one day soon.

Andrea Barrett writes beautifully about very different people who all share several common traits: a desire to know, the ability to closely observe, analyze, and marvel at the wonder of discovery -
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is beautiful. I loved it even more than Ship Fever. These stories, many of them taking place in the 19th century, are about people who are drawn to science as a way to understand their world. The surprising way the characters connect between stories (and between books) kept me fascinated. I can't wait to read more of her work.
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 (and one of my own personal favorites from that summer), the stunningly crafted Servants of the Map is composed of six interconnected tales of the natural world and the complex inner lives of the scientists, explorers, and others who feel its pull.

Andrea Barrett, author of the National Book Award-winning Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal, received her degree in biology and, fortunately for us, became a novelist. As with these two books, Servants o
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
For someone who has a science background and loves historical fiction AND serials, this book of short stories was a delight. Barrett's prose is beautiful and she renders somewhat complicated subject matter (not to mention arcane) as fascinating. I love that she weaves (ever so subtly) characters from many of her stories together throughout the book, and I understand that in fact the characters and some of the tales are carried through many of her books... which can only mean that I will half abo ...more
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Women who love science--as I do--often find ourselves "odd ducks" in the halls of academia as well as in literature, but Andrea Barrett delights in women characters who are passionate about science without being dull or quirky. Barrett observes and reports on her characters and their quests with the eye of someone trained in science, and the result is stories that both teach and delight.
These long stories concern themselves with the passionate dedication of those intrepid women and men whose commitment to their work became their whole life.
Jan Priddy
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was knocked down by her Ship Fever so the only real surprise is that this is only the second of Barrett's books I have read. I suppose I might love this collection of linked stories about as much as anything I have read in months. I should begin reading it from the beginning, in fact I would enjoy a second read very much. So it will go in my favored bookcase, even if I must take something out to make room.

These stories, long stories and each one spanning a life, are connected. Elizabeth of "T
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Got this out of my library on the recommendation of my bookie friend,Leslie. Read about 25 pages. Made a quick decision that this was NOT going to work for me. The first story is told at the beginning, mostly through letters which I usually love. But it was slow and it just didn't call to me. I pushed on for another 25 pages and WHAM I was in. Picture me scrambling eggs with one hand and reading this book with the other. That's how good it was. Not so short stories that all had were connected th ...more
Patrick McEvoy-Halston
Grabbing Hold, for Departure’s Sake (April 2006)

Max Vigne makes use of the ostensibly dangerous Himalayan mountain range as if it was a Green World, that is, as a place which facilitates experimentation, self-discovery, and renewal. It’s an odd place to use as a playground, but he needed some place that would serve: it is clear that his life in England was safe but routine—hum-drum. It is what was afforded him after a shock—his mother’s death—necessitated a life moved by necessity rather than by
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Now here's a breath of fresh air, and a very comfortable read. There are a couple of authors that I just know I'm going to like based on what I've heard about them and their works. So I pick up their books when I see them second hand, and say I'll read them some day - hence one tier of my 2015 Challenge, lol. Andrea Barrett is one of these authors (Ann Patchett is another). This is the first book of Barrett's - I have three - that I've read. And my assumption was right!

Servants of the Map is te
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: interests: fiction about natural science, 19th-century US east coast life, Victoriana
I loved this collection of stories, and I will be exploring more of Barrett's work in the future. She weaves a subtle web of family connection and passion among the characters throughout her distinct tales, making them not so much a series as an interlocking puzzle. Key to that puzzle is the cognitive dissonance that unexpected interconnections sometimes create - a thesis that objective awareness and acceptance of these unexpected and untidy "coincidences" is vital to a full understanding and ex ...more
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys a good book and especially anyone who enjoys a little science with their fiction.
Another great book from Andrea Barrett, this one of short stories and novellas. It helps to have at least a rudimentary interest in science, but it is not absolutely necessary to enjoy her books. She weaves bits of science in with the lives of the people who inhabit her books, making it all interesting. While the main characters are fictional, in all her books Barrett also casually includes real people in minor roles in a way that I find delightful. In one story, "Theories of Rain," the main cha ...more
Nov 21, 2007 rated it liked it
I believe Servants of the Map was a recommendation from here - if so, thanks to whoever mentioned it!

It's a collection of short stories, with an overarching theme of how the study of science influences our lives. For example, the title story's protagonist is a cartographer, mapping the Himalayas at the turn of the century. There are also links between the characters in the different stories - sometimes hard to find (at least if you're reading this in bits & pieces). The characters were engaging
Dec 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sandy
Since reading Ship Fever, I have become a huge Andrea Barrett fan. This collection of stories amazes with the links to those in her other collection. In "The Forest", she expands on her tale of the Marburg sisters, in essence diving into one of the openings she created in her initial story. Most of the stories she composes are riddled with esoteric scientific information and factoids, woven together like threads in a fine tapestry to create a complete story. In the title story, she takes a littl ...more
Mar 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Short stories which are really connected in some way and seem more like a novel are the basis for this book. It was interesting to see how the various characters and even objects in a box were interconnected. All of the main characters in this book were curious about the natural world or science in some way. I was happy to meet again some characters that I had first met in Voyage of the Narwhal. Someday I would like to re-read the book and make a time line and diagram of how these people are int ...more
Jennifer Osterman
May 31, 2009 rated it liked it
I thought that I would like this book of short stories better than I did. The subject matter, natural history, is one of great interest to me, however I found the stories a bit dry. The 19th century views of science that she portrayed were quite entertaining, and the prose gave me the feel of walking though a Victorian museum filled with curio cabinets containing jars of esoterica with handwritten paper labels.

Many people who gave this book high reviews were entertained by the fact that these st
Jul 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Peggy
Shelves: favorites
I read this collection of short stories in under 24 hours, they are incredibly captivating. The stories look at the influence of science on human character and the changing role of the scientist in society from amateur investigators in the 19th c. to high powered grant winners in the 20th c. The genealogy of all the characters are interwoven, so you see resonances between the stories over multiple decades and generations. I also love that the author is from my home town of Rochester, NY.
Nov 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers who love science
This collection of stories is amazing. Andrea Barrett draws you into the lives of scientists as they mapped the Himalayas centuries ago to those researching today. Her control of point of view gives the reader the feeling they are living inside these people's heads, as the characters struggle to move science forward while living real lives. Powerful stuff. ...more
Filippa Depaolo
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this beautiful collection of 4 stories and 2 novellas. Andrea Barrett got a degree in biology before becoming a writer so all of her characters are in the scientific realm: naturalists, nurses, botanists, surveyors. Each tale stands independently, but there are subtle links among the characters that are a treat to discover.
Jan 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Okay, after reading every book Barrett has written, each a fabulous and unique experience, she can still surprise me. She is able to weave characters from "Ship Fever" into a completely new collection of short stories. It is actually mindboggling to me. Fantastic!
Jerry Pogan
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Extremely good collection of short stories. All are loosely based around science of some sort but are, primarily, about relationships. An unusual combination but well done in the hands Barrett.
Kim Zinkowski
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book very much. I'd like to get it back.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Sigh. I wanted to like this book so much more, because of its compassionate humanizing of scientists and their stories, struggles, humors. Each story is well crafted, and deeply rooted in the nature of those that seek answers from their world, sometimes compelled despite themselves and their circumstances. However, somehow these stories did not move me. I didn't feel connected to these characters and their struggles, which perhaps I had falsely expected I would, being a scientist myself. Despite ...more
Katie Scarlett
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Andrea Barrett's book, Ship Fever, which won the 1996 National Book Award for fiction, is one of my favorite reads of the last 20 years, so I was both excited and a little nervous to read this Barrett story collection, published six years later. I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint.
Servants of the Map begins with the novella of the same name, which introduces Max Vigne, a self-taught botanist. Through letters to his wife and the narrative we become privy to Max's inner conflict betwee
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Found this yet unread book on my shelf with a postcard dated August 08..Dear Meg sorry not to see you this time...really enjoyed Intuition by Allegra Goodman(I had lent it to her; my twin sister had given it to me; my husband is a biologist as is "Cath")...she goes on: I'm guessing you already know Andrea Barrett, but maybe not this collection--one of my favorites; well I just loved it and agree with my "reading buddy"; a bit of science, history and romance..all rolled into delicately told tales ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent collection of linked short stories with scientific themes in each. The opening story is probably the strongest. Ship Fever, follows a cartographer as he studies plants and moss in the Himalayas around 1863. The final story, The Cure, is about turberculosis in 1905. There are subtle links between stories and several generations of the same family reappear. The writing is lovely and the focus on WOMEN was much appreciated!
Nicholas Sekits
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful fictional vignettes about early naturalists in the 19th century. The way interpersonal relationships are written here is complex and bittersweet. Each story could stand alone but is wonderfully intertwined with the others...A good fiction about the types of characters that devote their lives unabashedly to discovery and the people they bring along for the ride.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
I liked the writing style. I liked the sprinkling of science. The stories however were not very exciting. Seemed the descriptions of the scenes and scenery were the main characters. Lost interest in the last story and didn't finish.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Some stories were far more compelling to me than others. Barrett is a talented writer and stylist, but I found the historical stories less interesting than the contemporary ones.
Ray Hubley
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Admired the prose; stuggled with the narrow focus.
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Andrea Barrett is the author of The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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