Summary and book reviews of The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature

Alexander von Humboldt's New World

by Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf X
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 496 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world - and in the process created modern environmentalism.

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.

Now Andrea Wulf brings the man and his achievements back into focus: his daring expeditions and investigation of wild environments around the world and his discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zones on different continents. She also discusses his prediction of human-induced climate change, his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Wulf examines how Humboldt's writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, and Goethe, and she makes the compelling case that it was Humboldt's influence that led John Muir to his ideas of natural preservation and that shaped Thoreau's Walden.

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.

Excerpt
The Invention of Nature

Five months after his arrival, Humboldt finally left Quito on 9 June 1802. He still intended to travel to Lima, even though Captain Baudin wouldn't be there. From Lima Humboldt hoped to find passage to Mexico, which he also wanted to explore. First, though, he was going to climb Chimborazo – the crown of his obsession. This majestic inactive volcano – a 'monstrous colossus' as Humboldt described it – was about one hundred miles to the south-west of Quito and rose to almost 21,000 feet.[7]7 

As Humboldt, Bonpland, Montúfar and José rode towards the volcano, they passed thick tropical vegetation. In the valleys they admired daturas with their large trumpet-shaped orange blossoms and bright red fuchsias with their almost unreal-looking sculptural petals. Then, as the men slowly ascended, these voluptuous blooms were replaced by open grass plains where herds of small llama-like vicuñas grazed. Then Chimborazo...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2015

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With almost a hundred pages of explanatory notes and a bibliography extensive enough to comprise a near-lifetime of reading for even avid readers, The Invention of Nature is a serious book about a seriously important figure. Even if it never really transcends standard biography, Wulf certainly makes her case, establishing the singular significance of a man whose work was etched in stone but whose name was written on the shifting sands of time.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review (785 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Wulf's stories of wilderness adventure and academic exchange flow easily, and her affection for von Humboldt is contagious.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Engrossing... Humboldt was the Einstein of the 19th century but far more widely read, and Wulf successfully combines a biography with an intoxicating history of his times.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of The Signature of All Things and Big Magic
Andrea Wulf is a writer of rare sensibilities and passionate fascinations. I always trust her to take me on unforgettable journeys through amazing histories of botanical exploration and scientific unfolding. Her work is wonderful, her language sublime, her intelligence unflagging.

Author Blurb Richard Holmes, author of Coleridge and The Age of Wonder
The Invention of Nature is a big, magnificent, adventurous book - so vividly written and daringly researched - a geographical pilgrimage and an intellectual epic! With brilliant, surprising, and thought-provoking connections to Simón Bolívar, Charles Darwin, William Herschel, Charles Lyell, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, and George Perkins Marsh. The book is a major achievement.

Author Blurb A. N. Wilson, author of The Victorians and Victoria: A Life
This is a truly wonderful book... one of the most exciting intellectual biographies I have ever read, up there with Lewes's Goethe and Ray Monk's Wittgenstein... Hoorah, hoorah!!

Author Blurb Miranda Seymour, author of Noble Endeavors: A History of England and Germany
Andrea Wulf's marvelous book should go a long way towards putting this captivating eighteenth century German scientist, traveler and opinion-shaper back at the heart of the way we look at the world which Humboldt helped to interpret, and whose environmental problems he predicted.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Galvanism

Who would have thought that one frog could have such a huge impact on science?

As bizarre as it sounds, that was exactly the case. In the late eighteenth century, a scientist named Luigi Galvani performed an experiment on a frog, making a slight cut just beneath the frog's skin to expose nerve cells. When the scalpel came into contact with a metal hook holding down the body, sparks flew, and the legs of the frog twitched. His conclusion? Animal tissue is endowed with electricity. The scientific conclusion Galvani reached — and the remarkable widespread interest it engendered – led to a surge of interest, especially in the medical community, but also in the popular imagination.

Luigi Galvani The idea that animal's bodies were vessels...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Andrea Wulf

If you liked The Invention of Nature, try these:

  • The Last Neanderthal jacket

    The Last Neanderthal

    by Claire Cameron

    Published 2018

    About this book

    From the author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

  • Renoir's Dancer jacket

    Renoir's Dancer

    by Catherine Hewitt

    Published 2018

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Catherine Hewitt's richly told biography of Suzanne Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a provincial linen maid who became famous as a model for the Impressionists and later as a painter in her own right.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...
  • Book Jacket: Memories of the Future
    Memories of the Future
    by Siri Hustvedt
    I've never kept a journal, but my mother has written in hers for years, the annual volumes she's ...
  • Book Jacket: Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
    Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
    by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
    Rajeev Balasubramanyam encapsulates the theme of Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss in its first ...
  • Book Jacket: The Workshop and the World
    The Workshop and the World
    by Robert P. Crease
    The longest glacier in France, the Mer de Glace, is losing roughly 12 feet of ice height each year. ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Affairs of the Falcóns
    by Melissa Rivero

    A beautiful, urgent novel about the lengths one woman is willing to go to build a new life.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    When We Left Cuba
    by Chanel Cleeton

    An exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Ecstasy

Win copies to share with friends or your book club!

Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.