The Invention of Nature

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147 Ratings

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    11
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5 out of 5 stars
By Rachel Redford on 02-10-16

The Greatest Man since the Deluge

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) - how much do we in Britain know about him? He was a 'visionary and thinker far ahead of his time who revolutionised the way we see the natural world' and this, his biography, is truly, truly, tremendous, brilliantly researched and intellectually rich. It won well-deserved huge acclaim and awards in 2015, including the Costa Biography prize.

In his long and staggeringly energetic life, Humboldt's achievements were enormous. The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he was able to finance his first mind-blowing 5-year expedition to Latin America in 1799 where he broke the mould of other adventurers by striving to communicate with the indigenous tribes and to understand their relationship with Nature. Nature was the key to Humboldt's life work. 'Nature is a living whole,' he said. 'not a dead aggregate.' Many years before anyone else he established that every living thing on earth is connected to another as though by a thread, and that human beings cause climate change through deforestation and excessive irrigation. He foresaw the catastrophic effects of cutting timber for the building of Europe's navies and reported even the destruction wrought by gases released into the atmosphere from centres of industry.

The whole story of Humboldt's enthralling and exciting life is densely packed with detail and there are equally stimulating side chapters on those whom Humboldt influenced including Goethe (who you would never have guessed had a collection of 18,000 rocks!), Bolivar, Darwin, Jefferson, Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Haeckel and Marsh (whose wife who suffered from a painful back complaint accompanied her husband on expeditions carried on a board).

The narration is American with the American pronunciation of many words very different from the English. An American narration is appropriate however since Humboldt visited England only briefly, whilst in America his stature is huge with hundreds of places and geographical features named after him. I must admit that I found the narration monotonous because the tone was unvaried. But the content is so brilliant, I was happy to listen.

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10 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Andy on 01-05-17

Wonderful book

This is an incredible book and beautifully written. However the narration by someone who sounds like they should be doing movie trailers was really jarring. Check the sample to see if you can handle it.

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6 of 7 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Ricci on 04-06-16

Seems to tie together not only science, but history too. Fascinating

I rarely read biographies & I normally find C18 European history very dull. But this book has awakened my interest. Most amazing fact about Humbolt (in my opinion): the huge number of gigantic ally famous people he met, indeed was acquainted with. A real science adventure story. But then ... Humbolt himself gets into a slightly shambling old age, & so does this book. There's a long tail, with mini-biographies of some of the main people influenced by Humbolt. That's still interesting but ... Well, less so.

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6 of 8 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Wras on 01-15-16

Humboldt ‘read’ plants as others did books

and to him they revealed a global force behind nature, the movements of civilizations as well as of landmass. No one had ever approached botany in this way.”
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World


This is a fascinating book that rekindles the love of knowledge and nature, that explains some of the ideas and concepts thru which we see nature in this present time. A rediscovery of a man that pollinated the world with ideas that are still battling with religion's dogma that sees nature as subservient to man's needs to one where we are part of nature and indivisible from its processes and that we need to save nature before it's too late for humanity.

“The effects of the human species’ intervention were already ‘incalculable’, Humboldt insisted, and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally’. Humboldt would see again and again how humankind unsettled the balance of nature.”
― Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

Unlike most biographies this book presents how the work Alexander von Humboldt reverberated thru the thinkers of his time and how those waves are still lapping on our world and expanding beyond his name. Without an army or power he has influenced more of our world outlook than most figures from his time. He stood firm on his beliefs and and defended them even when inconvenient or financially imprudent (can you say that of many other human beings?). He opposed slavery and argued for equality for all and stood his ground with kings and dictators alike. He helped young scientist financially when he had no finances, he believed in a holistic approach to learning, appreciating the world for all it's beauty; art and sciences were one and the same to him .

“Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.”
― Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

I need to read this book several more times to truly appreciate all the information in it. It reminded me how much I loved going out and observing nature as a child, walking in the Andes, looking for fossils seeing every rock as a message from the past a proof of life printed on a stone, looking at beetles and spiders without time, full of curiosity, sleeping on top of a hill face up floating on the world my chest almost touching the stars. Drinking cool water from springs and tasting the difference, loving it all, being part of it.
Any book that makes you feel that again is worth reading and sharing and perhaps that repercussion will spread a new love and respect for Nature, or a way to save it from ourselves.

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10 of 14 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 04-23-17

An absolute must

If Charles Darwin was Luke Skywalker then Alexander Von Humboldt would be Obi Wan Kenobi.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars
By Helen on 04-05-17

Very disappointed

The performance is ideal for those who enjoy typical American documentaries. It is not conducive to active listening which a subject such as this requires. It blends into the background in a soporific way.

The book doesn't really know what it wants to be. Admittedly I didn't get to the end but it switched between a life story of Humboldt, lots of Goethe incidentals and an attempt to explain world events all coming together around Humboldt's life. The last of these is a mixture of subjects that occurred centuries apart to false statements (e.g. crop rotation discovered around the early industrial revolution? Tell that to the farmers using it for millennia around the globe).

Overall what seemed like a fascinating topic drove me to distraction - and to sleep.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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