Monday, January 25, 2016

Books: The Invention Of Nature By Andrea Wulf

   (Drivebycuriosity) - If we believe the New York Times a book about Alexander von Humboldt belonged to the best publications of 2015: "The Invention of Nature" by Andrea Wulf (nytimes). Von Humboldt was one of the most influential scientists of the early 19th century and was maybe the last polymath (in German: Universalgelehrter). The descendant of a very wealthy aristocratic German family was driven by an enormous scientific curiosity. In order to satisfy his thirst for knowledge he put his health & safety on risk and spend over the course of his life all his money for his research & publication projects. Von Humboldt made science accessible & popular and was one of the first who warned that humans are destroying the environment - maybe he was the first environmentalist. The scientist was enormous popular - a kind of 19th century super star - but he also influenced Charles Darwin and other great thinkers.

The book describes Humboldt´s life and scientific influence (amazon). Andrea Wulf lets the reader follow the scientist´s famous five-year expedition through large parts of South America where no other European had set his foot before. Von Huboldt adventured dangerous rides on tropical rivers, walked through dense jungles and climbed on mountains to altitudes nobody went before - all with the aim to accumulate knowledge which he later spread & popularized with a vast volume of publications, that often became bestsellers. During his exploration he discovered & categorized a huge amount of animals and plants and collected a vast sum of other scientific observations. Later in his life followed another dangerous exploration: A trip through Russia, which was even wilder than today, which led him to the Chinese border.

"The Invention .." is full of interesting facts, but unfortunately rather dryly written. I don´t share the New York Time`s enthusiasm because the book appears to me rather as an enormous diligence work and lacks the elegance & literary ambitions that distinguish strong biographies.

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