The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

invention of nature cover imageThe Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

by Andrea Wulf
Reflections on Nature
Knopf
Hardcover, 496 pages
$30.00

We often think that concerns over human impacts on our habitat and global climate change began to emerge around the time of the first Earth Day in the 1970’s. We forget that over 200 years ago, Alexander von Humboldt developed the “web of life” concept and warned that the despoilation of nature through mining, logging and other extractive activities would threaten human existence. This book reminds us that the Anthropocene and its consequences are not recent discoveries. It also reminds us that Humboldt was one of the great men of all time. He held salon with Goethe as a young man and engaged with Darwin as an old man. He influenced such widely disparate figures as Jefferson and Madison; Whitman and Poe; Thoreau, Marsh and Muir. Napoleon so envied his erudition that he ordered his deportation from Paris (the French scientific community intervened successfully). Wulf’s new biography – long overdue – is deeply researched and beautifully written. It should be read by anyone in the sciences or with an interest in human impacts and climate change.