I had never heard of Alexander von Humboldt prior to my arrival in Berlin (in 2010), but several years of calling this city my home (as well as employment at the university named after him and his brother) have ensured an accumulation of facts associated with his name, facts that were but a superficial nod of acknowledgement now that I have had the pleasure of learning about his tremendous dedication to his craft, his progressive beliefs and insights, and, possibly most eye-opening to me, his enormous influence on both contemporary and following generations of scientists, thinkers, and poets. (One of my favourite chapters covers this aspect from the perspective of Charles Darwin.) There were moments when I found myself questioning whether the author may have been overstating her case, but she ultimately presented more than enough evidence to satisfy my personal hesitation. I don’t know whether there is a comparable biography of Alexander von Humboldt out there, but I’m truly glad that Andrea Wulf decided to dedicate herself to the exposure of this story at this point of time.
The invention of nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s new world (Andrea Wulf)