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Review: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
by Andrea Wulf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part biography, part history of ideas, Andrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature is a fascinating read. Alexander von Humboldt's ideas became the foundation of our understanding of ecology and the interconnectedness of all living things.

The biographical parts of the book are quite interesting. The history of ideas part is a bit uneven - it can be dry in places - but overall Wulf conveys those ideas well.

Humboldt was a fascinating character. His travels to and across South America helped him to bring many of his ideas together and also were the basis for his reputation. His travels; his constant study and exploration; his outgoing personality; and his ability to convey ideas in ways that others could understand along with his position in society meant that he interacted with and influenced his peers across many countries and fields - Goethe, Darwin, Jefferson, Bolivar to name a few.

Wulf tells us how Humboldt and Goethe became friends and influenced each other. Out of their exchange came the notion that art and science influence each other, and that science owes much to the imagination. Humboldt's many written works used imaginative and evocative language to convey his scientific ideas and discoveries. In this book Wulf herself reaches for that ideal combination of art and science and for the most part she pulls it off.

Well worth a read for anyone interested in nature, ecology, science and the history of science.

I read the audiobook narrated by David Drummond. Drummond did a good job. The only distraction for me was that he pronounced "Himalaya" in the Indian fashion (Him AHL ya), rather than the American (Him a LAY a), which is perfectly fine, but as his accent is otherwise American it did make me wonder why.

The Invention of Nature links

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