Winner of the Costa Biography Award 2015. Winner of the LA Times Book Prize 2015 (Science and Technology). Shortlisted for the Independent Book Week Award 2016.
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'.
©2015 Andrea Wulf. Recorded by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC (P)2015 Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books
"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)
A very enjoyable read about a fastinating man who's life was well lived and who has had far reaching influence during his lifetime and to present day. A vital part of anyone's reading collection who is interested in science writing and the environment. Michael Hall -Environmental photographer
This is an incredible book and beautifully written. However the narration by someone who sounds like they should be doing movie trailers was really jarring. Check the sample to see if you can handle it.
"interesting story but was hoping for more"
An interesting story about one of the most influential people on the environmental movement and understanding nature.
I was perhaps expecting more as it won the Royal Society book prize, but I felt the book neither fulfilled in creating a compelling personal story of Humboldts story or of his seminal thoughts in reconstructing a whole scientific field. Arguably the best written bits are the influence on other scientists and authors. Worth it for those who have never heard of Humboldt.
Narration was clear, but too monotone for me.
"Seems to tie together not only science, but history too. Fascinating"
I rarely read biographies & I normally find C18 European history very dull. But this book has awakened my interest. Most amazing fact about Humbolt (in my opinion): the huge number of gigantic ally famous people he met, indeed was acquainted with. A real science adventure story. But then ... Humbolt himself gets into a slightly shambling old age, & so does this book. There's a long tail, with mini-biographies of some of the main people influenced by Humbolt. That's still interesting but ... Well, less so.
"The Greatest Man since the Deluge"
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) - how much do we in Britain know about him? He was a 'visionary and thinker far ahead of his time who revolutionised the way we see the natural world' and this, his biography, is truly, truly, tremendous, brilliantly researched and intellectually rich. It won well-deserved huge acclaim and awards in 2015, including the Costa Biography prize.
In his long and staggeringly energetic life, Humboldt's achievements were enormous. The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he was able to finance his first mind-blowing 5-year expedition to Latin America in 1799 where he broke the mould of other adventurers by striving to communicate with the indigenous tribes and to understand their relationship with Nature. Nature was the key to Humboldt's life work. 'Nature is a living whole,' he said. 'not a dead aggregate.' Many years before anyone else he established that every living thing on earth is connected to another as though by a thread, and that human beings cause climate change through deforestation and excessive irrigation. He foresaw the catastrophic effects of cutting timber for the building of Europe's navies and reported even the destruction wrought by gases released into the atmosphere from centres of industry.
The whole story of Humboldt's enthralling and exciting life is densely packed with detail and there are equally stimulating side chapters on those whom Humboldt influenced including Goethe (who you would never have guessed had a collection of 18,000 rocks!), Bolivar, Darwin, Jefferson, Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Haeckel and Marsh (whose wife who suffered from a painful back complaint accompanied her husband on expeditions carried on a board).
The narration is American with the American pronunciation of many words very different from the English. An American narration is appropriate however since Humboldt visited England only briefly, whilst in America his stature is huge with hundreds of places and geographical features named after him. I must admit that I found the narration monotonous because the tone was unvaried. But the content is so brilliant, I was happy to listen.
"The most fascinating biography I've read so far!"
I knew about Humboldt, the last "universal genius" since my childhood in Germany and always wanted to know more about him. That is now done and much more than that.
Andrea Wulf doesn't limit himself to a very intelligent and insightful narrative of Humboldt's life and work, but goes way beyond: he shines a bright light on people that have been influenced by the master, one, two and even three generations further along.
I'm a tad less enthusiastic about David Drummond's performance. I don't care much for his voice (but that's no fault of his, just my taste) and got quite irritated by some words he mispronounces. Hi-mal-ea instead of Himalaya being just one recurring example.
All in all, a book I'll be listening to again in a year or two, a rare phenomenon for me.
"Humboldt ‘read’ plants as others did books"
and to him they revealed a global force behind nature, the movements of civilizations as well as of landmass. No one had ever approached botany in this way.”
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
This is a fascinating book that rekindles the love of knowledge and nature, that explains some of the ideas and concepts thru which we see nature in this present time. A rediscovery of a man that pollinated the world with ideas that are still battling with religion's dogma that sees nature as subservient to man's needs to one where we are part of nature and indivisible from its processes and that we need to save nature before it's too late for humanity.
“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 again and again how humankind unsettled the balance of nature.”
― Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
Unlike most biographies this book presents how the work Alexander von Humboldt reverberated thru the thinkers of his time and how those waves are still lapping on our world and expanding beyond his name. Without an army or power he has influenced more of our world outlook than most figures from his time. He stood firm on his beliefs and and defended them even when inconvenient or financially imprudent (can you say that of many other human beings?). He opposed slavery and argued for equality for all and stood his ground with kings and dictators alike. He helped young scientist financially when he had no finances, he believed in a holistic approach to learning, appreciating the world for all it's beauty; art and sciences were one and the same to him .
“Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.”
― Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
I need to read this book several more times to truly appreciate all the information in it. It reminded me how much I loved going out and observing nature as a child, walking in the Andes, looking for fossils seeing every rock as a message from the past a proof of life printed on a stone, looking at beetles and spiders without time, full of curiosity, sleeping on top of a hill face up floating on the world my chest almost touching the stars. Drinking cool water from springs and tasting the difference, loving it all, being part of it.
Any book that makes you feel that again is worth reading and sharing and perhaps that repercussion will spread a new love and respect for Nature, or a way to save it from ourselves.
"A man for our season."
A man for our season because he predicted the problems our planet would be in if our stewardship of the earth's resources were not wisely and scientifically managed.
"Very interesting book"
I would recommend the book, but I would warn the listener that the voice of the reader is unexpressive. Worth sticking with it for the content.
I didn't now how important Humboldt was to the development of theories about the natural world - brilliant!
No laughing or crying, but I was fascinated.
"One of the best books I've listened to."
Loved it. It's great when you learn something new, surprising and important and that is what this book has done for me. Humboldt is the father of ecology and much else besides. Realising that he was concerned 200 years ago about what we generally consider modern demonstrates quite powerfully how poor we are at resisting short termism and yet how quickly we have turned local problems into long-term global disasters. A really good book about an amazing, and amazingly under appreciated, man. This book is also a very good look at his influence as reflected in the notable scientists and scholars that followed him. One last thing, it really makes you value nature.
"Great hidden history"
Great story about Humboldt who should be more widely known. The book does well to explore the people influenced by him including Bolivar, Darwin and more. The strength of the book though is in ripping the yarns of the 18/19th century and the world which he transformed.
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