481 pages, 8 plates with colour illustrations; b/w photos, b/w illustrations
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'.
Taking us on a fantastic voyage in his footsteps – racing across anthrax-infected Russia or mapping tropical rivers alive with crocodiles – Andrea Wulf shows why his life and ideas remain so important today. Humboldt predicted human-induced climate change as early as 1800, and The Invention of Nature traces his ideas as they go on to revolutionize and shape science, conservation, nature writing, politics, art and the theory of evolution. He wanted to know and understand everything and his way of thinking was so far ahead of his time that it's only coming into its own now. Alexander von Humboldt really did invent the way we see nature.
"A big, magnificent, adventurous book – so vividly written and daringly researched – a geographical pilgrimage and an intellectual epic! Brilliant, surprising, and thought-provoking [...] a major achievement"
– Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder and Coleridge
"A truly wonderful book [...] Andrea Wulf has told the tale with such brio, such understanding, such depth. The physical journeyings, all around South America when it was virtually terra incognita, are as exciting as the journeys of Humboldt's mind into astronomy, literature, philosophy and every known branch of science. This is one of the most exciting intellectual biographies I have ever read, up there with Lewes's Goethe and Ray Monk's Wittgenstein"
– A.N. Wilson
"Andrea Wulf's marvellous book should put this captivating eighteenth century German scientist, traveller and opinion-shaper back at the heart of the way we look at the world [...] irresistible and consistently absorbing life of a man whose discoveries have shaped the way we see"
– Miranda Seymour, author of Noble Endeavours: A History of England and Germany
"Andrea Wulf is a writer of rare sensibilities and passionate fascinations. I always trust her to take me on unforgettable journeys through amazing histories of botanical exploration and scientific unfolding. Her work is wonderful, her language sublime, her intelligence unflagging"
– Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Signature of All Things and Eat, Pray, Love
"Engrossing [...] Wulf successfully combines biography with an intoxicating history of his times"
"Extraordinary, and often still sadly relevant too"
"The phrase 'lost hero of science' in the subtitle of [Wulf's] book is no exaggeration [...] A big book about a big subject, written with scholarship and enthusiasm"
– Irish Examiner
|In her coruscating account, historian Andrea Wulf reveals an indefatigable adept of close observation with a gift for the long view"
"[A] gripping study [...] No one who reads this brilliant book is likely to forget Humboldt"
– New Scientist
"This book sets out to restore Humboldt to his rightful place in the pantheon of natural scientists. In the process Wulf does a great deal more. This meticulously researched work – part biography, part cabinet of curiosity – takes us on an exhilarating armchair voyage through some of the world's least hospitable regions"
– Giles Milton, Mail on Sunday
"Thrilling [...] It is impossible to read The Invention of Nature without contracting Humboldt fever. Wulf makes Humboldtians of us all [...] At times The Invention of Nature reads like pulp explorer fiction [...] She has gone to near-Humboldtian lengths to research her book"
– New York Review of Books
"Engrossing [...] Andrea Wulf magnificently recreates Humboldt's dazzling, complex personality and the scope of his writing"
– Wall Street Journal
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Andrea Wulf was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now lives in England. She is the author of several acclaimed books. The Brother Gardeners won the American Horticultural Society Book Award and was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Her book Founding Gardeners was on the New York Times bestseller list. Andrea has written for many newspapers including the Guardian, LA Times and New York Times. She was the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2013 and a three-time fellow of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. She appears regularly on TV and radio.