The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf


Humboldt Bay. The Humboldt current. The Humboldt glacier. The Humboldt Squid (Yes. Really).

For a guy with lots of stuff named after him, poor Alexander von Humboldt has dropped off the map compared to bigwigs like Darwin. This biography seeks to correct and show how modern thinking stands on the shoulders of Humboldt’s work.

The famous explorer, botanist, geologist, naturalist, geographer and general renaissance man was the first to come up with the theory of an interacting, dynamic ecosystem-style universe, or Kosmos. A generally acknowledged concept today but groundbreaking at the time.

He’s a fascinating character. Hugely influential on scientists and artists alike, Humboldt seems to transcend disciplines and span the world. We follow him through the jungles of the Amazon, up volcanoes and the Andes, and through interactions with Goethe and Simon Bolivar.

Some bits are a little like an English essay. I think it’s a stretch (of credulity and reader attention) to go into detailed literary analysis of Humboldt’s language compared to Coleridge in a biography. Saying that, this book is a lovely melting pot of subjects where philosophy overlays science and factual writing can be as beautiful a poetry.

Read: if you have any interest in science or the natural world

One thought on “The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

  1. Yes an excellent read which I have just finished myself. Built up my knowledge of Humboldt whose name is ubiquitous but about who I knew virtually nothing before.

    Also on the Royal Society’s Science Book 2016 shortlist. As too is Thomas Levenson’s “The Hunt for Vulcan” which is even better (I think it will win).


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