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A good history of a the rise of the modern way of thinking about nature and its relationship to man. Wulf has clearly researched this exhaustively, and seems to have read every piece of correspondence between Humbolt and his fellow scientists. However, despite effectively depicting the subject's character, enthusiasm, and spirit, this text lacks some of what it describes. I found the final several chapters dragging, although it ends on a very high note with Humbolt's posthumous influence on the great John Muir.
In a sentence, it is far more a description of his effects than of the man himself, Initially presented as an adventurer naturalist, it turns out he spends 90% of his life bouncing around Europe and writing books, which are in turn read by people who we are more familiar with (Darwin, Lyell, Thoreau, Muir). Realistic, but not especially interesting.
At the same time, it serves as an important reminder of how man remains ignorant of his place on the planet. An important message.
Drummond is a good narrator, but at times seems to lack the excitement of the text. In fact, on some words he seems to be imitating Stephen Hawking's [computer's] syllabic pauses, most notable in the pronunciation of the word "nature". As a result...it comes up a lot. So you're reminded of it constantly.
35 of 35 people found this review helpful
I knew Humbolt was a great scientist, but I did not know a tenth of his accomplishments. This is a stunning look at a man who loved biology, geology, and anthropology, as well as human rights and lyrical writing. He invented the concept of ecology, discovered climate zones, and raised awareness of long term human impact on the environment. He inspired revolutionaries such as Bolivar, scientists such as Darwin, and writers such as Thoreau. Today, Humbolt is largely forgotten, but if you read this book you will never forget this extraordinary man.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful