Who was Alexander von Humboldt?
I had no idea until I read this fascinating and important biography. Humboldt, a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, was called “the Shakespeare of the sciences.” He taught and inspired Darwin. He deeply influenced Goethe, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Simon Bolivar, and John Muir.
Humboldt was the quintessential scientist before the word scientist had even been coined. He climbed the Chilean peak Chimborazo to 19,000 feet in 1802, higher than any person had ever gone, and from that vantage point confirmed his unique and world-changing view of nature as a system of interrelated pieces, of which humans are a part.
In 1869, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, huge celebrations were held in Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Moscow, Alexandria, Mexico City, and from New York to San Francisco, and yet in the U.S. today he is almost unknown. I’m hopeful Andrea Wulf’s book will help to change that.