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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
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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.NATIONAL BEST SELLEROne of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the YearWinner 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 AwardFinalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Kirkus Prize Prize for Nonfiction, the Independent Bookshop Week Book AwardA 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 SpectatorAlexander 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.From the Hardcover edition.
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Street Date:
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Andrea Wulf. (2015). The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Andrea Wulf. 2015. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

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Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015.

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Andrea Wulf. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015. Web.

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      • bioText: 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.

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title
The Invention of Nature
fullDescription
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.
NATIONAL BEST SELLER
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 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 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of The Signature of All Things and Big Magic
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Richard Holmes, author of Coleridge and The Age of Wonder
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: The New York Times Book Review, Top 10 Books of the Year
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Nathaniel Rich, New York Review of Books
      • content: "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 "[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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times (London)
      • content: "A magnificent work of resurrection, beautifully researched, elegantly written, a thrilling intellectual odyssey."
      • premium: False
      • source: Simon Winder, The Guardian (London), Best Books of the Year
      • content: "The most complete portrait of one of the world's most complete naturalists." --Mark Cocker, The Spectator (UK) "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Economist, Best Books of the Year
      • content: "A superb biography. Andrea Wulf makes an inspired case for Alexander von Humboldt to be considered the greatest scientist of the 19th century. . . . Wulf is especially good, [on the ways that] his ideas enjoyed an afterlife. . . . Ecologists today, Ms. Wulf argues, are Humboldtians at heart. With the immense challenge of grasping the global consequences of climate change, Humboldt's interdisciplinary approach is more relevant than ever."
      • premium: False
      • source: Joy lo Dico, The Independe
      • content: "Marvelous. . . . On one level, [The Invention of Nature] is a rollicking adventure story. . . . Yet it is also a fascinating history of ideas." --Sarah Darwin, Financial Times"This book sets out to restore Humboldt to his rightful place in the pantheon of natural scientists. In the process, Wulf does a great deal more. This meticulously researched work--part biography, part cabinet of curiosities--takes us on an exhilarating armchair voyage through some of the world's least hospitable regions, from the steaming Amazon basin to the ice-fringed peaks of Kazakhstan." --Giles Milton, Mail on Sunday (London) "In its mission to rescue Humboldt's reputation from the crevasse he and many other German writers and scientists fell into after the Second World War, it succeeds."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from July 20, 2015
        Wulf (Chasing Venus) makes an impassioned case for the reinstatement of the boundlessly energetic, perpetually curious, prolific polymath von Humboldt (1769–1859) as a key figure in the history of science. She marshals as evidence evocative descriptions of his expeditions—measuring instruments in hand—through the most brutal terrains of South America and Russia; delightful stories of his inspired interactions with other contemporary luminaries, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and Simon Bolívar; and demonstrations of his personal and intellectual influence on later seekers of truth in nature such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Ernst Haeckel. But the greatest single idea Wulf credits von Humboldt with establishing is the interconnectedness of nature—the animated, interactive forces of life he described as a “living whole” that bound organisms in a “net-like intricate fabric”—rather than the mechanistic, taxonomic schema of his predecessors, from von Humboldt’s early explanation of plant life in the Andes through his Naturgemälde to his encyclopedic work, Cosmos. Wulf also works hard to show that von Humboldt was a good person by modern standards, featuring his progressive, humanitarian ideas against oppression and slavery. Wulf’s stories of wilderness adventure and academic exchange flow easily, and her affection for von Humboldt is contagious. Maps & illus.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        July 15, 2015
        Engrossing biography of "a visionary, a thinker far ahead of his time," who "revolutionized the way we see the natural world." For most of his life, explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a household name. Never just a simple collector or adventurer, he poured out his ideas in lectures, conversations, and books that made him the public face of science during his era. In this fine account of an unbelievably energetic life, British commentator and historian Wulf (Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, 2012, etc.) emphasizes that his insights marked the end of the universal view (at least among scientists) of animals as soulless automatons and the belief that humans were lords of the Earth. He ushered in the modern era of natural science, including-although he usually gets little credit-environmentalism. Humboldt, writes the author "saw the earth as a great living organism where everything was connected, conceiving a bold new vision of nature that still affects how we understand the world." The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he used his money to finance his iconic, grueling 1799-1804 expedition through the jungles and mountains of Latin America, ending with a long visit to President Thomas Jefferson, a lifelong correspondent. He eventually returned to Europe, wrote of his experiences in 34 bestselling volumes, and continued to travel, lecture, write, and excite artists, poets, scholars, and scientists for the remainder of a very long life. Wulf pauses regularly for chapters on other great men who acknowledged Humboldt's immense influence, including Goethe, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. 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.

        COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from November 15, 2015

        This masterly written and important biography covers a brilliant explorer, writer, naturalist, and thinker--in short, an accomplished polymath--who is underappreciated today. The writings of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who is considered the first ecologist, combine science and poetry and touch on the harms of colonialism. The scientist pioneered the synthesizing of myriad observations on the natural world (his most extensive explorations were in South America, Russia, and western Europe) and espoused the importance of the interrelationships of disparate sciences, with early descriptions of phenomena that would not become accepted for many decades: continental drift and humankind's influence on climate are but two examples. Wulf (author of the well-received Chasing Venus, Founding Gardeners, and The Brother Gardeners) has performed exhaustive research for her compelling and readable story of a man who was no less than a rock star in his day. The author documents von Humboldt's deep influence on any number of luminaries, including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Wolfgang van Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, Jules Verne, Simon Bolivar, and many others, making her claim for Humboldt as "the most extraordinary scientist of his age" totally convincing. VERDICT Stimulating reading for those interested in general history, natural history, exploration, science, and philosophy.--Henry T. Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia

        Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        Starred review from September 15, 2015
        Born to a wealthy Prussian family in 1769, young Alexander von Humboldt dreamed of expeditions to far-away lands. But he was kept on a short leash by his widowed mother while he studied science, worked as a mining inspector, and met prominent thinkers, becoming especially close to Goethe. Finally, in 1799, Humboldt was able to sail to South America, where he and his crew traveled arduous distances at great risk, charting rivers, climbing mountains, and collecting thousands of specimens, groundbreaking endeavors Humboldt chronicled in brimming journals. A polymath with frenetic energy and epic curiosity, Humboldt practiced disciplined empiricism while also thinking imaginatively and holistically, ultimately forging a radical new understanding of nature as one vast web, a reality we still haven't fully grasped. Humboldt shared his findings in lyrical and galvanizing works that became best-sellers that influenced Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau, among countless others. Wulf (Founding Gardeners, 2011), a historian with an invaluable environmental perspective, presents with zest and eloquence the full story of Humboldt's adventurous life and extraordinary achievements, from making science accessible and popular to his early warnings about how deforestation, monoculture agriculture, and industrialization would engender disastrous climate change. Humboldt, Wulf convincingly argues in this enthralling, elucidating biography, was a genuine visionary, whose insights we need now more than ever.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

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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.
NATIONAL BEST SELLER
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 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...
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