A talk with Alison Pearn of the Darwin Correspondence Project:
The winner of this year’s Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize, which is awarded annually to a work of science writing intended for a non-specialist audience, went to Andrea Wulf for her fantastic biography of Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt has long been a character of interest to me: not only is “Humboldtian science” a standard topic one learns about in history of science courses (especially Michael Dettelbach’s chapter in Cultures of Natural History), but, as readers here may know, Humboldt was an important influence on Darwin.
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (New York: Vintage Books, 2015), 552 pp.
Publisher’s description 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.
In October I had the pleasure of attending a talk that Wulf gave about Humboldt for the Oregon Hardy Plant Society:
For similar talks, check out the recording below…
It appears that folks really want a picture book adaptation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (I would!), for while artist Sabina Radeva set a goal of under $3,000 for her Kickstarter campaign to produce her adaptation, at less than a day left for donating, the campaign has raised over $60,000! Check out sample images on her website and watch her video about the project:
Janet Browne spoke on Darwin for three lectures at Harvard earlier in November, all of which have been uploaded to YouTube. Enjoy!
Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Economist of Nature”
Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Stories of a Scientific Life”
Becoming Darwin: History, Memory, and Biography, “Icon”
Another great excuse to use the Darwin facepalm gif:
Jump to the 44:00 mark: