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A Cheer for Humboldt!

December 14, 2019

German historian Andrea Wulf is THE expert on Alexander von Humboldt. Our conversation with her was like a homage to the great adventurer and polymath!

Andrea Wulf im Edinburgh International Book Festival 2016
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

Andrea Wulf spent a decade researching the life of Alexander von Humboldt -- in archives, libraries and private collections. She travelled the world, following in his footsteps, to find out what he saw and felt on his expeditions. Her best-selling biography "The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World" gives an insight into this extraordinary explorer's life and his importance to the sciences.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
Image: picture-alliance

Alexander von Humboldt was born to wealthy parents in Berlin in 1769. After a brief career working for the Prussian government, he used his inheritance to embark on the adventure of a lifetime to the Americas -- at the age of 29. He and the French explorer and botanist Aimé Bonpland travelled to Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. Humboldt collected plant specimens, observed animals and was the first European to almost reach the peak of the Chimborazo volcano.


BG "The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt" (Englisch)
Image: Andrea Wulf & Lillian Welcher

He documented his adventures in notebooks and numerous letters, telling how his boat capsized on the Orinoco River and he almost drowned, describing various diseases and the mosquitoes, but also the beauty and culture of the continent. His famous cross-sectional diagram of Chimborazo sheds light on different climate and vegetation zones and gives an insight into his holistic view of nature. How prescient Humboldt was is becoming increasingly clear. He warned almost 200 years ago that human interference with nature would have a disastrous impact on climate.