The Invention of Nature

Alexander von Humboldt's New World (2015.9)


关于本书 About the book

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether he was climbing the highest volcanoes in the world or racing through anthrax-infected Siberia or translating his research into bestselling publications that changed science and thinking. Among Humboldt’s most revolutionary ideas was a radical vision of nature, that it is a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone.

With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, Andrea Wulf shows the myriad fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.

本书金句 Key insights

● Both Goethe and Humboldt agreed that simply sitting in a room and classifying rocks, plants and animals would not lead to an understanding of them. One had to leave the office or laboratory and experience them.

● By doing this, and not just cataloging things in isolation of one another, Humboldt started to understand how connected everything in the world was. For example, he saw caverns around Cumaná that reminded him of similar ones in Europe's Carpathian Mountains. He saw trees in the same area that reminded him of Italian pines.

● Essay on the Geography of Plants was the first to show direct relations between plants, climate and geography. It also described the ancient connections between continents - a century before popular science would recognize what is now known as the continental drift.

● By August 1829, the now 60-year-old Humboldt was happily climbing the Altai Mountains, crawling into caves, collecting rocks and plants. His observations would provide the final details needed for his connective view of the world.

● It was Humboldt’s goal to produce a single work that would fully represent his view of a world that is entirely connected and intricately woven together. This work would expand upon the "Naturgemälde" idea that struck him atop Chimborazo 40 years previously, and ended up becoming a five-volume book called Cosmos.