Dear Commons Community,
I have just finished reading Andrea Wulf’s book entitled, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. It is an engaging biography of someone who I had heard about but did not know about. Wulf has filled in a gap in my education about von Humboldt and his incredible contributions to nature, science, art and poetry. He inspired the likes of Goethe, Darwin, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Gaudi, and Muir. He had personal relationships with Thomas Jefferson and Simon Bolivar.
His observations and descriptions of nature such as the integration of all things which we take for granted today, provided insights into the damage mankind was doing to the environment especially in places like South America. He spent five years in the Americas providing detailed notes and drawings on the geography, flora and fauna, He was a pioneer in his travels through the Amazon and Andes Mountains documenting all he saw and heard. He was totally against slavery and won the hearts of many South American liberation fighters.
In promoting the relationship between humankind and the natural world, Humboldt brought together the external physical world with the internal world of the mind. He was quoted as saying that “no single fact can be considered in isolation.”
Wulf does a masterful job of renewing our acquaintance with this polymath. To quote:
“..today almost completely forgotten outside of academia, Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas still shape our thinking. And while his books collect dust in libraries, his name lingers everywhere from the Humboldt Current to the Sierra Humboldt in Mexico.”
She claims that there are more places named after Humboldt than anyone else. Upon his death, Prussian King Wilhelm IV said “Humboldt was the greatest man since the Deluge.”
I highly recommend The Invention of Nature.