Paul Giles reviews 'The Invention of Nature' by Andrea Wulf

Paul Giles reviews 'The Invention of Nature' by Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science

by Andrea Wulf

John Murray, $35 pb, 496 pp, 9781473628793

Alexander von Humboldt, who died in 1859 at the age of eighty-nine, was not only the most famous scientist of his day but also one of the world's best-known figures. He met often with political leaders, from Thomas Jefferson in the new United States to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and he expanded outwards from his bases in Paris and Berlin to pursue various scientific expeditions, particularly across Latin America in 1800 and Russia in 1829, that changed our knowledge of the physical world. ('We have little knowledge of the Spanish colonies', Jefferson told Humboldt when they met in 1804, 'but through you.') Humboldt's 'adventures' are now celebrated in a new biography by Andrea Wulf, a freelance journalist who is the author of two books on gardening. The Invention of Nature is a well-written volume, with a nice eye for comic anecdotes, and it is certain to help restore Humboldt's claims on the public attention.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in March 2016, no. 379

Paul Giles

Paul Giles is Challis Professor of English at the University of Sydney. His most recent book is Backgazing: Reverse time in modernist culture (OUP, 2019).

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.