Views of Nature

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

While the influence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) looms large over the natural sciences, his legacy reaches far beyond the field notebooks of naturalists. Humboldt’s 1799–1804 research expedition to Central and South America with botanist Aimé Bonpland not only set the course for the great scientific surveys of the nineteenth century, but also served as the raw material for his many volumes—works of both scientific rigor and aesthetic beauty that inspired such essayists and artists as Emerson, Goethe, Thoreau, Poe, and Frederic Edwin Church.

Views of Nature, or Ansichten der Natur, was Humboldt’s best-known and most influential work—and his personal favorite. While the essays that comprise it are themselves remarkable as innovative, early pieces of nature writing—they were cited by Thoreau as a model for his own work—the book’s extensive endnotes incorporate some of Humboldt’s most beautiful prose and mature thinking on vegetation structure, its origins in climate patterns, and its implications for the arts. Written for both a literary and a scientific audience, Views of Nature was translated into English (twice), Spanish, and French in the nineteenth century, and it was read widely in Europe and the Americas. But in contrast to many of Humboldt’s more technical works, Views of Nature has been unavailable in English for more than one hundred years. Largely neglected in the United States during the twentieth century, Humboldt’s contributions to the humanities and the sciences are now undergoing a revival to which this new translation will be a critical contribution.
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About the author

Stephen T. Jackson is professor emeritus of botany and ecology at the University of Wyoming and the editor of von Humboldt’s Essay on the Geography of Plants. He lives in Tucson, AZ. Laura Dassow Walls is the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several books, including The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America. She lives in Granger, IN. Mark W. Person is associate academic professional lecturer in German in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and director of the language lab at the University of Wyoming. He lives in Laramie, WY.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jul 17, 2014
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Pages
344
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ISBN
9780226923192
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Language
English
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Genres
History / General
Science / General
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Explorer, scientist, writer, and humanist, Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous intellectual of the age that began with Napoleon and ended with Darwin. With Cosmos, the book that crowned his career, Humboldt offered to the world his vision of humans and nature as integrated halves of a single whole. In it, Humboldt espoused the idea that, while the universe of nature exists apart from human purpose, its beauty and order, the very idea of the whole it composes, are human achievements: cosmos comes into being in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, science and poetry.

Humboldt’s science laid the foundations for ecology and inspired the theories of his most important scientific disciple, Charles Darwin. In the United States, his ideas shaped the work of Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, and Whitman. They helped spark the American environmental movement through followers like John Muir and George Perkins Marsh. And they even bolstered efforts to free the slaves and honor the rights of Indians.

Laura Dassow Walls here traces Humboldt’s ideas for Cosmos to his 1799 journey to the Americas, where he first experienced the diversity of nature and of the world’s peoples—and envisioned a new cosmopolitanism that would link ideas, disciplines, and nations into a global web of knowledge and cultures. In reclaiming Humboldt’s transcultural and transdisciplinary project, Walls situates America in a lively and contested field of ideas, actions, and interests, and reaches beyond to a new worldview that integrates the natural and social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.

To the end of his life, Humboldt called himself “half an American,” but ironically his legacy has largely faded in the United States. The Passage to Cosmos will reintroduce this seminal thinker to a new audience and return America to its rightful place in the story of his life, work, and enduring legacy.

The acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world—and in the process created modern environmentalism.

NATIONAL BEST SELLER

One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The James Wright Award for Nature Writing, the Costa Biography Award, the Royal Geographic Society's Ness Award, the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award

Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Kirkus Prize Prize for Nonfiction, the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Nature, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New Scientist, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Spectator

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether he was climbing the highest volcanoes in the world or racing through anthrax-infected Siberia or translating his research into bestselling publications that changed science and thinking. Among Humboldt’s most revolutionary ideas was a radical vision of nature, that it is a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone.

Now Andrea Wulf brings the man and his achievements back into focus: his daring expeditions and investigation of wild environments around the world and his discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zones on different continents. She also discusses his prediction of human-induced climate change, his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Darwin, Wordsworth, and Goethe, and she makes the compelling case that it was Humboldt’s influence that led John Muir to his ideas of natural preservation and that shaped Thoreau’s Walden.

With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, Andrea Wulf shows the myriad fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.
New York Times Bestseller

A Summer Reading Pick for President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

Featuring 27 photographs, 6 maps, and 25 illustrations/diagrams, this provocative and insightful work is sure to spark debate and is essential reading for aficionados of Jared Diamond, James Gleick, Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Sharon Moalem.

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