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Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island [Hardcover]

Jo Anne Van Tilburg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 12 2003 074324480X 978-0743244800
Katherine Routledge is a central figure in the history of Easter Island, one of the world's most remote and mysterious locales. Born to a wealthy and prestigious English Quaker family in 1866, Katherine rebelled against Victorian values, becoming one of the first female graduates of Oxford University and the first woman archaeologist to work in Polynesia. From 1913 to 1915, Katherine and her husband, Australian adventurer William Scoresby Routledge, led the Mana Expedition to Easter Island, where Katherine conducted the first ever excavations of the island's world-famous stone statues. Katherine collected vast quantities of new information, and through interviews with dozens of elderly men and women, she was able to save the history of the island, whose population was struggling back from the brink of extinction. Without Katherine's extraordinary efforts, Easter Island's traditional beliefs and customs would have been forever lost. Many of Katherine's papers were thought to be lost until they were discovered by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, the contemporary world's leading authority on the Easter Island statues. In this compelling biography, Dr. Van Tilburg brings her unique expertise to Katherine Routledge's discoveries and to her turbulent life. The result is an exciting personal story, set against the drama of Katherine's remarkable exploration of one of the most intriguing archaeological sites in the world.

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From Publishers Weekly

In 1914, Katherine Routledge (1866-1935) arrived at Easter Island, leading an anthropological and archeological expedition with her husband, William Scoresby Routledge, to investigate the origins of the island's mysterious giant statues. Although she made several critical discoveries about the Rapa Nui culture during her 17 months of research, the expeditionary force was wracked by internal tensions, and she found herself caught up in a native uprising led by a charismatic prophetess. Van Tilburg, a leading contemporary authority on the Easter Island statues, ably explains Routledge's findings, fitting them in the context of the adventurous chain of events, and shows how they were facilitated by her relationships with the locals. The biography is also excellent in tracing Katherine's obsessive research methods back to her childhood experiences in a wealthy English clan with a history of mental illness. Routledge struggled with symptoms of schizophrenia for most of her life, interpreting the voices in her head with a combination of her family's visionary Quakerism and a belief in communication with the dead. Though Routledge ultimately succumbed to her disease, dying alone in an insane asylum, Van Tilburg carefully shows that the symptoms were under control throughout the Easter Island expedition. Much as A Beautiful Mind did for John Nash, this biography preserves Routledge's invaluable scientific contributions without shying away from the tragic circumstances of most of the rest of her life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Englishwoman Katherine Pease Routledge, born in 1866, wanted a life of discovery, not domesticity. Extremely intelligent, curious, diligent, and fearless, she attended Oxford, where women students were barely tolerated, and majored in anthropology. Already hearing voices, the first intimation of the paranoid schizophrenia that would eventually hijack her life, Katherine was at her best while doing fieldwork, first in Africa and then on Easter Island, which became her much loved spiritual home. The story of how Katherine-- forthright, independently wealthy, intrepid, and ambitious--married the scientifically inclined, nomadic, and irascible William Scoresby Routledge and then organized a complicated, contentious, dangerous, and unprecedented expedition to splendidly isolated and enigmatic Easter Island is extraordinary on all fronts. And Van Tilburg, herself an Easter Island expert who has worked with the great-grandson of Juan Tepano, the islander who helped Katherine discern aspects of his culture no outsider ever considered before, tells the extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman extraordinarily well. Animated in her descriptions, sensitive in her insights, and agile in her scientific and cultural knowledge, she brings to life a brilliant and courageous "natural-born ethnographer" whose arduous and groundbreaking fieldwork ascertained the origins of Easter Island's astonishing giant stone statues as well as their surprisingly relevant social and ecological significance. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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"IT WAS MY MISFORTUNE, KATHERINE SAID ON A BLUSTERY Yorkshire day in 1981, ""to be born a woman with the feelings of a man.""" Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy with care April 26 2004
This book scores highly for the length of its footnotes and its bibliographies - and van Tilburg is to be congratulated on bringing a great but overlooked story into print - but how much do you trust a biographer who mistakes the dates of both the birth and marriage of her subject?
Knowing a little of Katherine Routledge and her times, I found van Tilburg's narrative unconvincing. Perhaps it would be unfair to expect an author working from America to understand the absurd and divisive nuances of British notions of class, though class was a key factor in Routledge's life. I bridled, however, at the author's repeated insistence on Routledge's mental illness. Has van Tilburg seen evidence for this, perhaps from Routledge's surviving family (tracking down descendants, even establishing the fate of the ship Mana, is something van Tilburg does well) that she is not prepared to publish? The suggestion that Routledge's life and work were profoundly affected by schizophrenia is a major charge. It needs more substantiation than this book presents: what we have does not rise above gossip.
The book is also curiously thin, coming from an author with much experience of Easter Island archaeology, on what makes Routledge's Pacific work so special. There are many details here, and much useful material to inspire and aid further research. Too many minor errors, however, warn against taking it all on trust. Read and enjoy, but keep your critical faculties about you.
(For the record: Katherine Routledge was born on 11 March 1866 [not 11 August, though the author has corrected her previously published error over the year] and was married on 8 August [not 6 August] 1906 - she was over, not nearly, 40 on her wedding day. Nit picking? These dates are easy to check. The reader, though, cannot check facts that van Tilburg quotes from inaccessible or ungiven sources)
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3.0 out of 5 stars A vanilla read. July 15 2003
A fine, factual account of the life of Kathryn Routledge with lots of nice, pieces of interesting data. It was a decent scholarly read but certainly not the kind of book that will keep you glued to your summer lounge chair, knowing you need to put on more sun screen because your skin is burning...but you just have to read one more page... No. Not that kind of book. At times, it took self discipline to get through it. Why don't we know more about Scorsby Routledge other than his habit of being most annoying? Was he gay? Was he a decent, tender person toward Kathryn? Who knows other than that they never slept together and they spent nearly half of their marriage apart. Again, it was just sort of a factual account of the life of Kathryn Pease Routledge-no more but certainly no less. Make no mistake, I know WHAT happened to our protagonist. However, the WHY things happened was lacking and then became non-existent toward the end of the book. This was not what I expected to read and I was glad when I finally ran out of pages so I could pick up a more interesting summer read- like "Batavia's Graveyard" and "West With the Night".
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Story Worth Telling -A Story Worth Reading! May 11 2003
Having been to Easter Island and knowing a little about Katherine Routledge, I was delighted to see that someone had finally written about her fascinating life. She was a remarkable woman whose life was interesting, intriguing, and tragic. Dr. Van Tilburg traces her life as a young child of privilege, growing up surrounded by Quaker ideals in England through her life at Oxford University, her marriage to William Scoresby Routledge and travels to Africa, South America, Easter Island, Mangareva and her final years back in England.
This is a biography that has been thoroughly researched; notes are referenced with interviews, Katherine's personal research and letters, Scoresby's papers and the author's endless sleuthing in all parts of the world that Katherine lived or visited.

The major part of the book is Katherine's stay on Easter Island. The author interweaves Katherine's personal and academic life with what is scientifically known about Easter Island archaeology and the people who inhabited the island then and now. Her words and thoughts are beautifully crafted and bring Katherine to life in a vivid and passionate manner. I could not put this book down and didn't want it to end. It is a story well told.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Stellar Biography! Aug. 9 2003
By A Customer
This interesting and scholarly biography of Katherine Routledge is compelling and entertaining. Among Stone Giants seems to be an exceptionally well researched biography, and draws extensively on archaeologist JoAnne Van Tilburg's fist hand knowledge of Easter Island, its people and its history.
While Katherine Routledge may be relatively unknown to many, this fantastic book truly brings her to life. Van Tilburg is clearly an impartial by empathetic biographer, and the reader is moved to sympathize with Katherine's challenging life struggles. JoAnne Van Tilburg's prose creates a vivid portrait of the Island, its people and Katherine's place there.
Perhaps the author's greatest accomplishment is conveying to her reader how vital and extraordinary were Katherine Routledge's contributions to the present day archaeological record of the Island.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fine biography and a compelling story Aug. 26 2003
This book traces the unusual and dramatic life of the extraordinary anthropologist Katherine Routledge, who was the first to conduct a scientific field study of the strange and isolated Easter Island, famous for its giant stone statues. The story has all the elements of a major novel, such as unrequited love, exotic places, wars, schooners, spies, rebellion, archaeological mysteries, and much more. On a personal level it is a tribute to the courage and genius of Katherine Routledge who in the end sadly succumbed to mental illness. Her legacy is the profound knowledge we have today of Easter Island and its strange history. Finally, I think that this book would make and excellent subject of a major motion picture!
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