Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon

Norton. May 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780393868234. $30. BIOG
Science journalist Sevigny (Mythical River) takes readers on a rollicking ride down the Colorado River with pioneering botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter. In 1938, the women embarked on a 600-mile, 43-day river journey through the Grand Canyon with guide Norman Nevills, a zoologist, and two amateur rivermen. While the botanists helped with the exhausting, often terrifying navigation down the river, they were also expected to cook and clean for everyone, fitting in plant observation and gathering around these chores. Despite this appallingly sexist division of labor, they painstakingly preserved hundreds of specimens, some previously unknown; today, many of these are housed in collections around the country, including those of the Smithsonian. Sevigny seamlessly integrates excerpts from the botanists’ letters and journals with fascinating scientific and historical information about the Grand Canyon region, offering a rich adventure with two compelling protagonists who refused to be confined by their gender. Although women PhD scientists were rare, media coverage at the time focused on the fact that these were women running the Colorado River, virtually ignoring the expedition’s important scientific component. Also ignored were the Indigenous women who had already navigated the canyon.
VERDICT This will be a hit with adventure and popular-science readers, as well as those interested in gender studies.
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