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The Invention of Nature summary

Andrea Wulf

Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

4.5 (57 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

"The Invention of Nature" by Andrea Wulf is a biography of Alexander von Humboldt, an adventurous scientist who explored nature and whose ideas influenced Charles Darwin and John Muir.

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    The Invention of Nature
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    From an early age, Alexander von Humboldt had a longing to see the world.

    Let’s travel back in time to meet the adventurous explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. He was born to a respected and aristocratic Prussian family on 14 September 1769. His father was an advisor to King Wilhelm III, and his mother came from a wealthy manufacturing background.

    Alexander had one brother, Wilhelm, who was two years older than he was. Unfortunately, their father died when Humboldt was only nine years old. Afterward, their mother grew reclusive and let tutors take most of the responsibility of raising her children as intelligent and honorable young adults.

    But unlike his brother, Alexander always preferred nature to studying.

    While Wilhelm took to his books, Alexander roamed the countryside estate where he lived, filling his pockets with plants and bugs and earning the nickname, “the little apothecary.” Though his mother wanted both of her boys to be civil servants, Alexander was fascinated by the new age of exploration and grew up dreaming of leaving home and seeing the world.

    So, as young Alexander von Humboldt reached adulthood, he spent his non-working hours following his passion for science and nature.

    He dutifully continued his education, excelling in science, math and language. But he found a special interest in geology and, at the age of 22, landed steady work as a mining inspector. While improving conditions for miners, Humboldt also studied the underground plant-life of the mines and published his first book on subterranean flora.

    Also, whenever he found the time, he obsessed over the latest scientific advances in zoology, botany, and the mechanics of life.

    He became particularly interested in galvanism, the study of biological reactions to electric currents, even using his own body to conduct experiments!

    But all the while, Humboldt found it more and more difficult to calm a restless mind that longed to escape Europe. But before he could venture to uncharted lands, he met the man who would change the way he saw the world around him.

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    What is The Invention of Nature about?

    The Invention of Nature (2015) shines a light on the extraordinary life of explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Discover Humboldt’s amazing perspective on our relationship to the world and find out how his ecological discoveries and observations are just as relevant and profound today as they were in the nineteenth century.

    The Invention of Nature Review

    The Invention of Nature (2015) by Andrea Wulf is a captivating exploration of Alexander von Humboldt's life and his groundbreaking contributions to science. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Inspiring and enlightening, it unveils the immense impact that von Humboldt had on our understanding of the natural world.
    • With its fascinating anecdotes and vivid descriptions of von Humboldt's adventures, the book transports readers to different parts of the world, making history come alive.
    • Wulf skillfully weaves together concepts from various disciplines to present a holistic view of von Humboldt's ideas, showcasing his pioneering approach to interconnectedness.

    Best quote from The Invention of Nature

    Man can only act upon nature and appropriate her forces to his use by comprehending her laws.

    —Andrea Wulf
    example alt text

    Who should read The Invention of Nature?

    • Environmentalists
    • Students of environmental history, art and science
    • Scientists, especially biologists and botanists

    About the Author

    Andrea Wulf trained as an art historian at London’s Royal College of Art. Her previous books include Chasing Venus and Founding Gardeners. She has also contributed to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

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    The Invention of Nature FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Invention of Nature?

    The main message of The Invention of Nature is the interconnectedness of nature and the major impact of one man's ideas.

    How long does it take to read The Invention of Nature?

    The reading time for The Invention of Nature varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in under 15 minutes.

    Is The Invention of Nature a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Invention of Nature is worth reading as it offers a captivating exploration of Alexander von Humboldt's remarkable life and his pioneering views on nature.

    Who is the author of The Invention of Nature?

    Andrea Wulf is the author of The Invention of Nature.

    What to read after The Invention of Nature?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Invention of Nature, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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