The Invention of Nature

The Invention of Nature

Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Book - 2015
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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.


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.
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2015
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780385350662
Characteristics: xix, 473 pages :,illustrations (some colour), maps


From Library Staff

AnneDromeda Apr 06, 2016

Don't be daunted by the many, many pages and the teeny tiny font! This book - about a man who's arguably the father of the environmentalist movement - is both required and enjoyable reading for any naturalist in your life.

Wulf does a sublime job of giving enough information about Humboldt's ... Read More »

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Nov 19, 2018

Humboldt probably wrote enough that you could trace his influence in all kinds of things, but her emphasis is on the environmental / conservation movement. The tracing of the history of ideas is fascinating.

Aug 19, 2018

Disappointing. A conventional history written by a gardener.

Dec 30, 2017

This was one of my most enjoyable reads of the year! I was intrigued first by the topic of nature and history. However, the story of his life and his personal impact on other naturalists and the scientific community left me awestruck. I recommend this book to everyone with an interest in nature including its celebration, exploration, and preservation. While the book is dense, every word builds upon the narrative and weaves an intimate view into life, the world, and the development of natural sciences.

Oct 23, 2017

A well told narrative of an amazing man. I now have an answer to the question, "If you could go back in history and meet one person, who would it be?"

Sep 16, 2017

This was the second book I read on Alexander von Humboldt (The Humbolt Current) and it was by far one of the best historical biographies I've ever read. An inspiring book that touches on the life of one of the most influential people the world over during a time when few men and women were known outside of their country or field of work. If you want to know the origins of the environmental movement prior to the 20th century, look no further.

Apr 23, 2017

If history was written like this when I was in school, maybe I would have learned something. This biography of Alexander von Humboldt is full of adventure, copious details about Humboldt's life, and thorough adjunct information about Humboldt's friends and the people he influenced. It is as complete a viewpoint as Humboldt's own view of the world: everything is connected and that you can find meaning if you know how to use this information to make sense of the world.

That Humboldt was an obsessive in his search for information about the natural world came through succinctly. What tempers this obsession is his ability to describe what he sees with a sense of poetry. It is important to be in nature, and through observation understand the world in which we live. Unfortunately, we have not learned this lesson. In the early 1800s, he witnessed and commented on how deforestation in South American, predicting climate change.

His friends included individuals as diverse as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Simon Bolivar and Thomas Jefferson. His writings had a profound impact on Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, John Muir and Ernst Haeckel.

Hopefully this book will revise interest in Alexander von Humboldt. He should not be forgotten.

Dec 20, 2016

This was an interesting book but much too wordy. I gave up half way through.

Oct 28, 2016

This book blew my mind. I can't believe how forgotten he was. He had so many ideas before their time and informed so many others' ideas and theories about all kinds of topics related to nature and climate -- like global warming, altitude's role in species distribution... He also knew a lot of really famous and important other historical figures, so you learn about others too, like Andrew Jackson, Simon Bolivar, Goethe. I thought it was so amazing it's one of the few books I'll hold onto and I won't lend it out.

Oct 27, 2016

A very interesting book about the prescient ideas of von Humboldt. I learned a lot in reading this book.

rayhpl Jun 05, 2016

A fascinating exploration of an enigmatic trendsetter, whose profuse love for nature and discovery, along with political savvy, revolutionized the scientific world and inspired some of modern history's most important icons. An engrossing read that evokes the spirit of adventure and reinforces our connection to nature.

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