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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  History of Science & Nature

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

Biography / Memoir New
By: Melissa L Sevigny(Author)
290 pages, 19 b/w photos, 1 b/w map
Brave the Wild River
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  • Brave the Wild River ISBN: 9781324076117 Paperback Jun 2024 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • Brave the Wild River ISBN: 9780393868234 Hardback Jul 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
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About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

The riveting tale of two pioneering botanists and their historic boat trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In the summer of 1938, botanists Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter set off down the Colorado River, accompanied by an ambitious expedition leader and three amateur boatmen. With its churning rapids, sheer cliffs, and boat-shattering boulders, the Colorado was famed as the most dangerous river in the world. But for Clover and Jotter, it held a tantalizing appeal: no one had surveyed the Grand Canyon's plants, and they were determined to be the first.

Through the vibrant letters and diaries of the two women, science journalist Melissa L. Sevigny traces their forty-three-day journey, during which they ran rapids, chased a runaway boat, and turned their harshest critic into an ally. Their story is a spellbinding adventure of two women who risked their lives to make an unprecedented botanical survey of a little-known corner of the American West at a time when human influences had begun to change it forever.

Customer Reviews


Melissa L. Sevigny is a science journalist at KNAU (Arizona Public Radio). She has worked in water policy, sustainable agriculture, and space exploration, and is the author of Under Desert Skies and Mythical River. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Biography / Memoir New
By: Melissa L Sevigny(Author)
290 pages, 19 b/w photos, 1 b/w map
Media reviews

– Winner of the 2023 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography
– Finalist for the Reading the West Book Award in Memoir/Biography
– A Booklist Top of the List Winner for Nonfiction in 2023
– A New Yorker Best Book of 2023

"Makes the case that [Elzada] Clover and [Lois] Jotter's study [...] provides a crucial benchmark in assessing human impact on the environment."
The New Yorker

"Highlights the little-known contributions two women made to our knowledge about the Southwest ecology. And it pays homage to a pair of scientists far ahead of their time."
– Anita Snow, Associated Press

"[Melissa L.] Sevigny paints a picture by describing other elements of the canyon journey. [...] She goes beyond botanizing and writes about the ancestral Puebloan residents of the area, mapmakers, former explorers, honeymooners."
– Mary L. Holden, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Melissa L. Sevigny] writes beautifully about the geology and botany of the Grand Canyon and the challenges Clover and Jotter met as they collected and preserved the extraordinary region's plants. [...] [An] artful account."
– Ann Fabian, National Book Review

"Artfully bridges a gap of nearly 100 years to shape the timeless story of a shared human experience with nature."
– Joan Meiners, Arizona Republic

"[Melissa L. Sevigny] whips jaw-dropping metaphor from thin air, not losing momentum as she weaves beautiful poetry through a clear, engaging narrative."
– Rebecca Lawton, Boatman's Quarterly Review

"Sweeps up the reader in its seamless weaving of histories with a geographically rich narrative. [...] [A] brilliant and elegantly written book."
– Geri Lipschultz ,

"Brings the expertise of a science writer to a story partly about science and the challenges of women's place in it, about the botany of the Grand Canyon. [...] Sevigny is a fine writer and tells the story well."
– John Miles, National Parks Traveler

"It's not just the story but the way it's told that matters here. Unlike those old-time newspaper reporters, Sevigny does not look at her subjects and see women out of place. She sees women doing their job and doing it well. She muses with pleasure about that change in perspective, while acknowledging (correctly) that women still face serious gender barriers in the modern profession of science."
The New York Times Book Review

"Melissa Sevigny, a rising star in science writing, has written a captivating book that journeys through the American West in company of two intrepid women botanists. This is a book celebrating women in science, particularly those adventurers who defied the bounds imposed on their gender to encounter the natural world in its wild power and beauty. This book redefines the Grand Canyon not as testing ground for masculine virility but as proving ground for women's tenacity and intelligence. Brave the Wild River, filled with adventure and fresh seeing, makes a superb contribution to literature of the American West."
– Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress

"Whip-smart, funny, meticulously researched, and beautifully written, Brave the Wild River is required reading for anyone interested in the Grand Canyon, river running, or the ingenuity of plants. It examines the challenges women in science faced in the 1930s – and still face today – but above all it's a story about what it means to risk everything, to follow your heart into the great unknown. A wild ride fueled by passion, grit, courage, luck, and intellectual curiosity that should inspire us all."
– Ash Davidson, author of Damnation Spring

"Telling the story of Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter's expedition in vivid, riveting detail, Melissa L. Sevigny makes the Colorado River's Grand Canyon ecosystem come alive. At a time when the Colorado River is at a crisis point, Brave the Wild River provides a captivating narrative of Clover and Jotter's important scientific contributions along with fascinating historical details."
– Christie Aschwanden, best-selling author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery

"Melissa Sevigny embroiders the Grand Canyon with plants who become as much characters as the people. She tells a ripping story, full of heart and grit, and a river readers will take in the teeth."
– Craig Childs, author of Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America

"What a joy to venture down the canyons with two new heroines so ahead of their time. A remarkable tale masterfully told. I loved every page."
– Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

"In Brave the Wild River, Melissa Sevigny unfurls one of the finest river stories of the Grand Canyon while presenting a long overdue, richly deserved, and beautifully written tribute to a pair of legendary botanists who peeled back the petals of a mysterious, intoxicating landscape, and made it blossom with new knowledge and wonder."
– Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

"Brave the Wild River is everything a book should be, at once a biography, a thriller, and a vivid piece of science writing. In Melissa L. Sevigny's breathtaking prose, the legendary Grand Canyon comes alive in honey mesquite, riparian forests, and desert blooms. Sevigny defines the wild as a 'place that changes us,' and she has written a book that is destined to permanently alter the way you see the world."
– Nathalia Holt, best-selling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars

"Brave the Wild River [...] highlights the little-known contributions two women made to our knowledge about the Southwest ecology. And it pays homage to a pair of scientists far ahead of their time."
– Anita Snow, Associated Press

"[Melissa L. Sevigny is] a spellbinding writer of informed and ardent attentiveness, wit, and empathy [...] A breath-catching, enlightening, and significant work of scientific, environmental, and women's history."
Booklist (starred review)

"A beautiful tribute to two pioneering women of science."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] cascade of a story, colored by sun and water and driven by courage and determination."
– Deborah Blum, New York Times Book Review

"Gripping [...] A vivid history of two female botanists who set off in 1938 to explore the Grand Canyon."
People Magazine

"[A] marvelous history [...] Drawing on Clover and Jotter's journals and letters, Sevigny recreates their expedition in novelistic detail, producing a narrative as propulsive as the current of the Colorado. Readers will be swept away."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Thrilling, expertly paced, warmhearted, [Brave the Wild River is] at once an adventure tale and a dual biography of two unusually determined, capable heroines [...] [L]yrical and lovely."
– Peter Fish, San Francisco Chronicle

"A page-turner in the adventure genre that also conveys rich detail about plant ecology of the US Southwest, sexism in science, and ethical issues in environmental science, the book is a marvelous and informative read."
– Barbara J. King, Science

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