The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

Andrea Wulf

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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

The Invention of Nature Alexander von Humboldt s New World 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

  • Title: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
  • Author: Andrea Wulf
  • ISBN: 9780385350662
  • Page: 376
  • Format: Hardcover
  • 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 Alexander von Humboldt 1769 1859 was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age In North America, his name still gracesThe 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 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 Sim n Bol var 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 scienceTIONAL BEST SELLERShortlist Costa Biography AwardFinalist Carnegie Medal for Excellence in NonfictionFinalist Kirkus Reviews Prize for NonfictionA Publishers Weekly Best Book of the YearNew York Times 10 Best Books 2015

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    One thought on “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

    1. Hadrian on said:

      This is a charming book, which has one of the highest achievements of any biographer - it has introduced the reader to an unknown subject and truly convinced them, "This person and their life are interesting. Let me show you why."Alexander von Humboldt had a full life. He was one of the founders of modern biology and ecology, and had a direct effect on scientists and political leaders ranging from John Muir and Charles Darwin to Thomas Jefferson and Simon Bolivar. His expeditions led him through [...]

    2. William1 on said:

      3.5 stars. For me, this book was — likeWhy Nations Fail,Guns, Germs, and Steel and Orlando Figes’sThe Whisperers— a keystone narrative that linked up many formerly disparate threads of my personal reading. Such books are rare pleasures. I had always known that Alexander von Humboldt’s story was a link missing from my general knowledge. The praises of Oliver Sacks and Stephen Jay Gould alone told me as much. But I didn't know this was generally due to anti-German sentiment so powerful in [...]

    3. David on said:

      This is a wonderful biography of a man about whom I knew very little. Today, in the United States, his name is practically unknown, despite being a world-wide celebrity in his day. Humboldt was a great explorer and scientist. He saw nature as a unified whole, an "organism in which parts only worked in relation to each other." His approach was holistic, and was entirely against the reductionist approach to science. Perhaps because of the influence of Goethe, Humboldt strongly advocated merging of [...]

    4. Jan-Maat on said:

      Overall a nice book. If I was giving star ratings then at times this book for me soared into five stars, at others it dredged through three star territory but because of the charm and vivacity and surprisingly upbeat approach to the book's subject I would not begrudge the book four stars and would generally encourage others to read it.However I feel that Wulf's mind was pregnant with two books and in this one, both are conjoined and stillborn. There is the oddly optimistic and breezy book about [...]

    5. Michael on said:

      This biography of Alexander von Humboldt was a revelation and a fun ride for me. This German scientist is credited with developing core concepts of ecology and documenting impacts of human development on the environment in early part of the 19th century. Wulf, who studied history of design and has written previously on the history of horticulture, aims with this accessible and well-illustrated account to rectify the near absence of recognition of Humboldt’s accomplishments in U.S. science educ [...]

    6. Louise on said:

      Alexander von Humboldt was the first to demonstrate the global unity and co-dependence of plants, animals, land, sea and atmosphere. In this way, he first posed the idea of what we come to view as "nature".His beginnings may have been usual for the German upper classes of the time. His wealthy but absent parents saw to an education that prepared him for a gentleman’s career. His eventual inheritance financed his expedition to South America. Wulf shows the difficulty of planning the trip, getti [...]

    7. Jaylia3 on said:

      A scientific expedition had long been Alexander von Humboldt’s dream, so when he stepped onto the shores of Latin America in 1799 he was beyond excited, and soon began exploring, measuring, comparing, questioning, and chronicling everything: the distribution of indigenous plants, barometric pressure at different altitudes, the relative blueness of the sky, the cultures and customs of local people, rates of river evaporation, the environmental effects of farming, examples of native language, th [...]

    8. Susanna - Censored by GoodReads on said:

      Not flawless (for me the weakest chapter was on Humboldt and Thoreau), but endlessly fascinating. Before there was Carl Sagan and his Cosmos, there was the great Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and his Kosmos. Why have we forgotten him? Because he was German? (That would be depressing.) Because he did not invent one theory in a specific field, but a way of looking at the universe? (Possible, I think. The former is easier to teach in school than the latter.) I don't know. At any rate, [...]

    9. Chrissie on said:

      Interesting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times. The book is not merely a biography covering the life of one man, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). It starts with a description of the world he was born into - Prussia, Pre-Romanticism and the eminent philosophers, poets and writers of the time, i.e. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich von Schiller, to name but a few. Humboldt came to spend long hours with Goethe. These prominen [...]

    10. Charlene on said:

      This book is now #1 on my list of favorite books of all time. When I was 16 I was an unwavering atheist and became incredibly obsessed with my own personal holy trinity: Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe. I loved Darwin's writing style and how he used facts over belief to understand the world. Thoreau's depiction of the world was depressing and heartbreakingly beautiful, just the RX my confused teenage brain needed at that time. It was a fantastic mindgasm to come to under [...]

    11. Max on said:

      We are indebted to Wulf for bringing this remarkable individual back to life for us in the 21st century. She is clearly enamored with her subject and not without reason. He was determined, adventurous, meticulous, methodical, original, influential, visionary and inspirational. With his presence, command of language and fact, new ideas and incredible explorations he was able to capture the imagination of those around him even though he could also be emotionally distant, tactless and self-centered [...]

    12. Paul on said:

      When you think of scientists that have formed the way that we think about world around us, the names that tend to come to mind are Newton, Darwin, Wallace, Davy and Einstein. In the mid-19th Century though the most famous scientist in the world was a man called Alexander von Humboldt, a man very few people have ever heard of these days. von Humboldt had a fascination of everything around him; he studied plants, geology, volcanos, animal and the stars the weather and the movement of the planets. [...]

    13. Olaf Gütte on said:

      Wirklich eine hervorragende Biografie, von der Autorin sehr gut recherchiert, Humboldt warnte schon seit 1799 bis zu seinem Lebensende vor der Zerstörung der Natur durch den Menschen. Heute tragen wir die Konsequenzen: Schmelzen der Pole durch Erderwärmung und extreme Wetterkapriolen.

    14. Jean Poulos on said:

      Wulf’s award winning book is a bit different from the average biography in that it is about a history of Alexander von Humboldt’s (1769-1859) ideas as much as it is about the man. Humboldt was a naturalist, geographer, polymath, explorer and the first environmentalist who at one time was the most famous man in Europe.Wulf reveals Humboldt’s discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zone on different continents (climate zones). The author discusses Humboldt’s prediction o [...]

    15. Bou on said:

      Alexander von Humboldt is not widely known or recognized in the Western World. But it is he who lay the foundations for the human vision of nature as something understandable and part of a closely connected system, where the minute intervention of man can cause devastating results. In this book, Andrea Wulf succeeded in providing great insights into Alexander von Humboldt, ranging from his personal life to the detailed observations and descriptions that he made on his grand voyages, as well as h [...]

    16. Andrea on said:

      How is that I've never heard of such a distinguished scientist as Alexander von Humboldt? This is the man that influenced some of the greatest thinkers, was an avid supporter of human rights in the age of slavery, and a proponent of conservationism when humanity was considered the centre of the God-created universe. Humboldt was a visionary that we need in our tumultuous times. He was perhaps not the most easy person to have a conversation with, but the legacy that he left cannot be ignored.Andr [...]

    17. Amanda on said:

      Alexander von Humboldt was a fascinating man. He has been largely forgotten in the English speaking world. This biography is a pretty comprehensive look at his discoveries. I really enjoy parts of it and found parts of it to be really tedious. He was a visionary and many of his ideas have shaped today's environmental issues. It's pretty amazing how spot on he was about issues we are facing today. If you are interested in the environment and nature I definitely recommend this. I listened to the a [...]

    18. Vimal Thiagarajan on said:

      Introducing and factually exploring the life of someone who is almost completely forgotten in the modern world, yet was the most famous man in the world during his long and restless lifetime, someone who is totally missing from modern school and university textbooks, yet was a key inspiration and guiding beacon for many of the celebrated names we find in these same textbooks - biographies seldom get better.An intrepid explorer and the best mountaineer of his time, Alexander Von Humboldt left his [...]

    19. Joachim Stoop on said:

      Von Humboldt was a hero in the old 'Homo Universalis Visionary The world is here and I've got no minute to lose, so let's read, write, travel, talk, explore' kind of way.Andrea Wulf is a heroine for gathering all the information about him that she could find and assembling it into a highly enjoyable and fascinating biography. What a triump!

    20. Jo on said:

      The first 2/3 of this book are 5 star material. Wulf vividly depicts Humboldt's travels and his personality. He is a fascinating subject. The last sections really suffers in comparison. Her choice of figures to investigate his legacy through their biography is both too focused and too limited to be truly effective. While I understand her desire to dive deep into Humboldt's influence shoehorning in 5 mini bios of other figures into the end of the book moves the book away from its true center. Lea [...]

    21. aPriL does feral sometimes on said:

      The book 'The Invention of Nature' is fascinating. It is more than a biography of Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859), who can be described as a polymath genius whose enthusiasm for travel and nature was as momentous for the development of as many branches of science that Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was because of his interest in physics. Yet, I have never heard of him until I read this book.Some early Western 19th-century proto-scientists labored all of their life in bleak obscurity until only a [...]

    22. Marie-Paule on said:

      When in Berlin a few years ago, I came by the magnificent building of the Humboldt University. And I know that quite a few plants are named ' humboldtiensis'. Although I have a PhD in Science I knew nothing more about Alexander von Humboldt. What a shame. On Sep 14, 1869, the 100th birthday of this brilliant man, there were celebrations all over the world: Europe, Africa, Australia and the America's. More than 100 years later, he seems to be forgotten. What a life he has led. In his younger year [...]

    23. Libros Prohibidos on said:

      La figura de Alexander von Humboldt es tan fascinante que sólo por conocerla merecería la pena leer el libro. Por conocer al hombre que concibió las ideas modernas de naturaleza y de ecología que nosotros seguimos teniendo en la cabeza, y al que acuñó el concepto de cosmos tal y como lo entendemos hoy en día. El último gran naturalista, que sentó las bases para el gran desarrollo de la Biología y la Geología en el siglo XIX y XX. Crítica completa: libros-prohibidos/wulf

    24. Mal Warwick on said:

      He was the most famous man in the world, and more places around the world are named after him than anyone else. To many of the giants of his time — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau — he was a colossus whose genius overshadowed their own. He was the first to describe the web of life on Earth, foreshadowing James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and the first to describe the impact of human activity on the world’s climate. His book [...]

    25. David on said:

      Didn't finish before it was due back to the library, but I read enough to be dazzled by Humboldt. First, I must praise this author for writing this book, bringing this once famous and celebrated figure back to our attention. The title is apparently not as hyperbolic as it seems, as her subject really does seem to have given both the public and the scientific community the idea of nature as an interconnected whole. No summary I could offer will do justice to the book, so you will need to read it [...]

    26. Jim Coughenour on said:

      A fine (re)introduction to Humboldt and his prescient ecological view of nature: that everything is connected and that humanity is capable of destroying the world it's been given. Humboldt appears as a brilliant, even heroic, transitional figure between the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement, between the positivism of science and the inwardness of art, between Goethe and Darwin. Wulf is also good at demonstrating his influence on other naturalists, not only Darwin but Thoreau, George Perkin [...]

    27. Bfisher on said:

      Alexander von Humboldt was one of the most prominent scientists of the nineteenth century. When he died in 1859, tens of thousands of mourners marched in his funeral procession. A staggering number of geographical features were named after him in his lifetime. It seems appropriate that the namesake Humboldt River, one of the largest rivers in the Great Basin of North America, disappears from sight in the Humboldt Sinks, much as Humboldt’s reputation has disappeared from modern popular memory.Y [...]

    28. Clif on said:

      Chicago's public radio station, WBEZ, had a program on the statue of Alexander Humboldt in the park named after him, in a neighborhood named after him. The program speculated that not one in a thousand passersby would know who he was. I've no doubt that's true. My only association of the name was with the Humboldt Current that brings cold water up the west coast of South America from Antarctica. With that as background, this book floored me.Humboldt was to the 19th century as Einstein was to the [...]

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