Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Congratulations Andrea Wulf

Andrea Wulf author of prize winning The Invention of Nature
The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf was just awarded the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016. Previously it won the 2015 Costa Biography Award.

ISBN-13: 978-1848548985

This is a fantastic book. While rooted in the late 18th Century, Andrea Wulf convinces us that Alexander van Humboldt's life and legacy are pertinent today. He started life as a mine inspector and was in his early thirties before realising his dream and travelling in South America where he showed extraordinary stamina and a capacity for accumulating huge amounts of data in all areas of science.

Charles Darwin had a set of Humboldt's books in his cramped cabin on the Beagle and they were heavily annotated. Humboldt met and corresponded with American presidents in post Revolutionary America and influenced the thinking of conservationists such as John Muir. It was his way of thinking about the interrelatedness of the environment that led Ernst Haeckel to coin the very word ecology (from the Greek for household).

Statue of Alexander von Humboldt in front of
Humboldt-Universität in Berlin
Alexander's older brother Wilhelm was a Prussian diplomat and minister of education. He it was who founded the university in Berlin that now bears the family name.

The subtitle The Lost Hero of Science suggests Alexander von Humboldt has been largely forgotten in the English-speaking world. Andrea Wulf's biography puts this to rights. 

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