2015 Costa Biography Award
2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
2016 Royal Society Prize for Science Books
Alexander von Humboldt was a German naturalist whose work helped shape our concept of environmentalism. Wulf brings this fascinating historical figure to life in all his globetrotting, visionary glory. Humboldt climbed volcanoes, descended into the depths, and greatly influenced Thoreau and John Muir. Recommended By Mary Jo S., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The James Wright Award for Nature Writing, the Costa Biography Award, the Royal Geographic Society’s Ness Award, the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award
Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Royal Society Science Book Prize, the Kirkus Prize Prize for Nonfiction, the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award
A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Nature, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New Scientist, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Spectator
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was the most famous scientist of his age, a visionary German naturalist and polymath whose discoveries forever changed the way we understand the natural world. Among his most revolutionary ideas was a radical conception of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. In North America, Humboldt’s name still graces towns, counties, parks, bays, lakes, mountains, and a river. And yet the man has been all but forgotten.
In this illuminating biography, Andrea Wulf brings Humboldt’s extraordinary life back into focus: his prediction of human-induced climate change; his daring expeditions to the highest peaks of South America and to the anthrax-infected steppes of Siberia; his relationships with iconic figures, including Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson; and the lasting influence of his writings on Darwin, Wordsworth, Goethe, Muir, Thoreau, and many others. Brilliantly researched and stunningly written, The Invention of Nature reveals the myriad ways in which Humboldt’s ideas form the foundation of modern environmentalism—and reminds us why they are as prescient and vital as ever.
"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." Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of The Signature of All Things and Big Magic
"From Russia to the jungles of South America to the Himalayas, an intrepid explorer’s travels make for exhilarating reading....Wulf imbues Humboldt’s adventures...with something of the spirit of Tintin, relishing the jungles, mountains and dangerous animals at every turn....A superior celebration of an adorable figure" Simon Winder, The Guardian (London), Best Books of the Year
"Engrossing....Wulf magnificently recreates Humboldt’s dazzling, complex personality and the scope of his writing....Her book fulfills her aim to restore Humboldt to his place 'in the pantheon of nature and science,' revealing his approach as a key source for our modern understanding of the natural world." Jenny Uglow, The Wall Street Journal
"Alexander von Humboldt may have been the preeminent scientist of his era, second in fame only to Napoleon, but outside his native Germany his reputation has faded. Wulf does much to revive our appreciation of this ecological visionary through her lively, impressively researched account of his travels and exploits, reminding us of the lasting influence of his primary insight: that the Earth is a single, interconnected organism, one that can be catastrophically damaged by our own destructive actions." The New York Times Book Review, Top 10 Books of the Year
"[Makes an] urgent argument for Humboldt’s relevance. The Humboldt in these pages is bracingly contemporary; he acts and speaks in the way that a polyglot intellectual from the year 2015 might, were he transported two centuries into the past and set out to enlighten the world’s benighted scientists and political rulers....At times The Invention of Nature reads like pulp explorer fiction, a genre at least partially inspired by Humboldt’s own travelogues....It is impossible to read The Invention of Nature without contracting Humboldt fever. Wulf makes Humboldtians of us all." Nathaniel Rich, New York Review of Books
"Andrea Wulf reclaims Humboldt from the obscurity that has enveloped him....[She] is as enthusiastic as her subject....Vivid and exciting....Wulf’s pulsating account brings this dazzling figure back into a dazzling, much-deserved focus." Matthew Price, The Boston Globe
About the Author
Andrea Wulf was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of Chasing Venus, Founding Gardeners, and The Brother Gardeners, which was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize and awarded the American Horticultural Society Book Award. She has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. She appears regularly on radio and TV, and in 2014 copresented British Gardens in Time, a four-part series on BBC television.