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Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) - how much do we in Britain know about him? He was a 'visionary and thinker far ahead of his time who revolutionised the way we see the natural world' and this, his biography, is truly, truly, tremendous, brilliantly researched and intellectually rich. It won well-deserved huge acclaim and awards in 2015, including the Costa Biography prize.
In his long and staggeringly energetic life, Humboldt's achievements were enormous. The son of a wealthy Prussian aristocrat, he was able to finance his first mind-blowing 5-year expedition to Latin America in 1799 where he broke the mould of other adventurers by striving to communicate with the indigenous tribes and to understand their relationship with Nature. Nature was the key to Humboldt's life work. 'Nature is a living whole,' he said. 'not a dead aggregate.' Many years before anyone else he established that every living thing on earth is connected to another as though by a thread, and that human beings cause climate change through deforestation and excessive irrigation. He foresaw the catastrophic effects of cutting timber for the building of Europe's navies and reported even the destruction wrought by gases released into the atmosphere from centres of industry.
The whole story of Humboldt's enthralling and exciting life is densely packed with detail and there are equally stimulating side chapters on those whom Humboldt influenced including Goethe (who you would never have guessed had a collection of 18,000 rocks!), Bolivar, Darwin, Jefferson, Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Haeckel and Marsh (whose wife who suffered from a painful back complaint accompanied her husband on expeditions carried on a board).
The narration is American with the American pronunciation of many words very different from the English. An American narration is appropriate however since Humboldt visited England only briefly, whilst in America his stature is huge with hundreds of places and geographical features named after him. I must admit that I found the narration monotonous because the tone was unvaried. But the content is so brilliant, I was happy to listen.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
This is an incredible book and beautifully written. However the narration by someone who sounds like they should be doing movie trailers was really jarring. Check the sample to see if you can handle it.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
A very enjoyable read about a fastinating man who's life was well lived and who has had far reaching influence during his lifetime and to present day. A vital part of anyone's reading collection who is interested in science writing and the environment. Michael Hall -Environmental photographer