Friday, October 28, 2016

The Invention of Nature. Alexander von Humboldt's New World

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, Alexandra Wulf explains the life and work of Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859), a naturalist and scientist. Wulf convincingly describes the far reaching impact of von Humboldt on the science that would eventually be called Ecology.

He worked at the dawn of the specializations of the sciences, yet saw early on that in the study of any subject, particularly nature, is best understood as a complicated web of interactions between life forms.  No plant or animal can be adequately studied in isolation. As the sciences became more specialized in the nineteen century, his was a voice in the wilderness.

Von Humboldt traveled extensively, wrote a great deal, and had an impact on the progression of science for several generations. Charles Darwin was inspired by von Humboldt to travel around the globe on the HMS Beagle.  The ecologist and naturalist John Muir was moved by von Humboldt’s early calls about the preservation of natural spaces.

Wulf makes a great case that Alexander von Humboldt, a man not known to most, laid the foundation of our understanding of the natural world.  He invented nature in the sense that he reformulated age-old ideas about the natural world and its ancient hierarchies into the forms we are more familiar with today -  a world tied together by intimate bonds of reciprocity. 

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