While the influence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) looms large over the natural sciences, his legacy reaches far beyond the field notebooks of naturalists. Von Humboldt's 1799–1804 research expedition to Central and South America with botanist Aimé Bonpland not only set the course for the great scientific surveys of the nineteenth century, but also served as the raw material for his many volumes – works of both scientific rigor and aesthetic beauty that inspired such essayists and artists as Emerson, Goethe, Thoreau, Poe, and Frederic Edwin Church.
Views of Nature, or Ansichten der Natur, was von Humboldt's best-known and most influential work – and his personal favorite. While the essays that comprise it are themselves remarkable as innovative, early pieces of nature writing – they were cited by Thoreau as a model for his own work – Views of Nature's extensive endnotes incorporate some of von Humboldt's most beautiful prose and mature thinking on vegetation structure, its origins in climate patterns, and its implications for the arts. Written for both a literary and a scientific audience, Views of Nature was translated into English (twice), Spanish, and French in the nineteenth century, and it was read widely in Europe and the Americas. But in contrast to many of von Humboldt's more technical works, Views of Nature has been unavailable in English for more than one hundred years. Largely neglected in the United States during the twentieth century, von Humboldt's contributions to the humanities and the sciences are now undergoing a revival to which this new translation will be a critical contribution.
Introduction: Reclaiming Consilience
Humboldt’s Ansichten der Natur Measurement Units
Views of Nature
Preface to the First Edition
Preface to the Second and Third Editions
1. Concerning the Steppes and Deserts
2. Concerning the Waterfalls of the Orinoco near Atures and Maypures
3. The Nocturnal Wildlife of the Primeval Forest
4. Hypsometric Addenda
5. Ideas for a Physiognomy of Plants
6. Concerning the Structure and Action of Volcanoes in Various Regions of the Earth
7. The Life Force, or The Rhodian Genius
8. The Plateau of Cajamarca, the Old Residential City of the Inca Atahualpa; First Sight of the Pacific from the Ridge of the Andes Chain
Stephen T. Jackson is professor emeritus of botany and ecology at the University of Wyoming and the editor of von Humboldt's Essay on the Geography of Plants. He lives in Tucson, AZ.
Laura Dassow Walls is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several books, including The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America. She lives in Granger, IN.
Mark W. Person is associate academic professional lecturer in German in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and director of the language lab at the University of Wyoming. He lives in Laramie, WY.
"From the plains of Venezuela to volcanoes and waterfalls, von Humboldt combines observations with travel narratives and philosophical musings. Annotations really help provide a context to the essays; this work also includes an index, conversions for von Humboldt's various measurement units, an introduction, and preface. This excellent translation of one of von Humboldt's most important works should introduce this great naturalist to an entirely new audience."
– Edward J. Valauskas, Curator of Rare Books, Library, Chicago Botanic Garden, Current Books on Gardening and Botany
"Despite von Humboldt's tremendous influence on many of the world's greatest writers and naturalists, including Goethe, Darwin, Emerson, and Thoreau, outside of specialist circles, this new translation has not received the attention it richly deserves. This is something I intend to do my part in helping to rectify at the earliest opportunity."
– John E. Riutta, Well-read Naturalist
"Long awaited by Humboldtians, this illuminating new edition of Views of Nature – offering not just vivid natural scenes ('views' in the most obvious sense) but also von Humboldt's still-fresh views on the significance of nature and its study – is a gift that transcends disciplines and even history. A book that was deeply relevant and constructively challenging in the age of empire has become even more necessary in the age of climate change. Today, thanks in part to the acutely sensitive translator and editors, von Humboldt's finest one-volume work comes across as a perfect blend of art and science, a paean to interconnection that is both humbling and heartening."
– Aaron Sachs, Cornell University, author of The Humboldt Current
"Alexander von Humboldt's wide-ranging Views of Nature is a masterpiece of nineteenth-century natural history, at once science and art. Mark W. Person's stunning new translation makes the wonders of this classic accessible to the English-language world of the present."
– Daniel Walker Howe, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning What Hath God Wrought
"Ever since his celebrated journey of exploration of the Americas, Alexander von Humboldt has been a defining figure of Western scientific culture. Today, his international reputation is enjoying a revival, especially in North America. Now the University of Chicago Press is adding to its list of Humboldtiana a new edition of von Humboldt's most readable book, Views of Nature, skillfully translated from the original German and expertly introduced. It opens up to a twenty-first-century readership the magnificent panorama of tropical American landscapes, the aesthetic pleasure of which connoted – in von Humboldt's view – the underlying harmony of lawlike unity that pervades the cosmos."
– Nicolaas Rupke, Washington and Lee University, author of Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography