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WINNER OF THE 2015 COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD
WINNER OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE 2016
'A thrilling adventure story' Bill Bryson
'Dazzling' Literary Review
'Brilliant' Sunday Express
'Extraordinary and gripping' New Scientist
'A superb biography' The Economist
'An exhilarating armchair voyage' GILES MILTON, Mail on Sunday
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist - more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.
His colourful adventures read like something out of a Boy's Own story: Humboldt explored deep into the rainforest, climbed the world's highest volcanoes and inspired princes and presidents, scientists and poets alike. Napoleon was jealous of him; Simon Bolívar's revolution was fuelled by his ideas; Darwin set sail on the Beagle because of Humboldt; and Jules Verne's Captain Nemo owned all his many books. He simply was, as one contemporary put it, 'the greatest man since the Deluge'.
Taking us on a fantastic voyage in his footsteps - racing across anthrax-infected Russia or mapping tropical rivers alive with crocodiles - Andrea Wulf shows why his life and ideas remain so important today. Humboldt predicted human-induced climate change as early as 1800, and The Invention of Nature traces his ideas as they go on to revolutionize and shape science, conservation, nature writing, politics, art and the theory of evolution. He wanted to know and understand everything and his way of thinking was so far ahead of his time that it's only coming into its own now. Alexander von Humboldt really did invent the way we see nature.
Wulf (Chasing Venus) makes an impassioned case for the reinstatement of the boundlessly energetic, perpetually curious, prolific polymath von Humboldt (1769 1859) as a key figure in the history of science. She marshals as evidence evocative descriptions of his expeditions measuring instruments in hand through the most brutal terrains of South America and Russia; delightful stories of his inspired interactions with other contemporary luminaries, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and Simon Bol var; and demonstrations of his personal and intellectual influence on later seekers of truth in nature such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Ernst Haeckel. But the greatest single idea Wulf credits von Humboldt with establishing is the interconnectedness of nature the animated, interactive forces of life he described as a "living whole" that bound organisms in a "net-like intricate fabric" rather than the mechanistic, taxonomic schema of his predecessors, from von Humboldt's early explanation of plant life in the Andes through his Naturgem lde to his encyclopedic work, Cosmos. Wulf also works hard to show that von Humboldt was a good person by modern standards, featuring his progressive, humanitarian ideas against oppression and slavery. Wulf's stories of wilderness adventure and academic exchange flow easily, and her affection for von Humboldt is contagious. Maps & illus.