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.
Coming from W.W. Norton, May 23, 2023
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
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 The Woven World
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
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
Brave the Wild River is everything a book should be. By reconstructing their 1938 expedition down the Colorado River, Sevigny rescues the history of two scientists who were often noted for their gender, but whose contributions to botany deserve the spotlight. Brave the Wild River is at once a biography, a thriller, and a vivid piece of science writing. In 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, author of The Rise of the Rocket Girls
What a joy 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
Telling the story of Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter’s expedition in vivid, riveting detail, Melissa 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 about the genesis of the Colorado River Compact, dire missteps in the Park Service’s early management of the Grand Canyon’s flora and fauna, and the gross mistreatment of Indigenous communities native along the Colorado River.Christie Aschwanden, best-selling author of Good to Go