The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world—and in the process created modern environmentalism.
NATIONAL BEST SELLER
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The James Wright Award for Nature Writing, the Costa Biography Award, the Royal Geographic Society's Ness Award, the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award
Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Kirkus Prize Prize for Nonfiction, the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award
A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Nature, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New Scientist, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Spectator
Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether he was climbing the highest volcanoes in the world or racing through anthrax-infected Siberia or translating his research into bestselling publications that changed science and thinking. Among Humboldt’s most revolutionary ideas was a radical vision of nature, that it is a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone.
Now Andrea Wulf brings the man and his achievements back into focus: his daring expeditions and investigation of wild environments around the world and his discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zones on different continents. She also discusses his prediction of human-induced climate change, his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, and Goethe, and she makes the compelling case that it was Humboldt’s influence that led John Muir to his ideas of natural preservation and that shaped Thoreau’s Walden.
With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, Andrea Wulf shows the myriad fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.
From the Hardcover edition.
conservative British Quarterly Review that was critical. Hooker told Darwin that Humboldt was ‘very wroth at the Quarterly Review Article upon Cosmos’. When the second volume was published two years later, in 1847, Humboldt became so concerned about its reception that he begged his publisher to be honest with him. There was no reason to worry. People fought ‘real battles’ for copies, Humboldt’s publisher wrote, and their offices were ‘downright looted’. Bribes were offered and parcels of books
section of his library ‘under Humboldt’. Muir tenaciously clung to the idea of following the footsteps of his hero. If anything, as he became older his lifelong wish to see South America grew stronger. There was also less holding him at home. In 1905, his wife Louie died and then both his daughters married and had their own families. When Muir reached his seventies, an age when other men would have thought about their retirement, he still did not give up his dreams. He now turned his thoughts in
Geier 2010, p.298ff. 35 ‘I never had believed’: AH to Varnhagen, 5 April 1835, AH Varnhagen Letters 1860, p.21. 36 ‘half of myself’: AH to Jean Antoine Letronne, 18 April 1835, Bruhns 1873, vol.2, p.183. 37 ‘Pity me; I am’: AH to Gide, 10 April 1835, ibid. 38 ‘Everything is bleak’: AH to Bunsen, 24 May 1836, AH Bunsen Letters 2006, pp.35–6. 39 AH to Paris for research: AH to Johann Georg von Cotta, 25 December 1844, AH Cotta Letters 2009, p.269; AH to Bunsen, 3 October 1847, AH Bunsen
Excursion and Poems, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906, vol.5 ——, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Familiar Letters, ed. F.B. Sanborn, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906, vol.6 ——, Walden, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1910 ——, The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Walter Harding and Carl Bode, Washington Square: New York University Press, 1958 ——, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau: Journal, ed. Robert Sattelmeyer et al., Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981–2002
explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate: the trees’ ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect.1 He also talked about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen. The effects of the human species’ intervention were already ‘incalculable’, Humboldt insisted, and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally’. Humboldt would see