‘The Invention of Nature,’ Alexander von Humboldt, and the Merging of the Arts and the Sciences
The book The Invention of Nature tells the story of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the great thinker and intrepid explorer who has more things named after him than anyone else – from the Humboldt Current to towns, rivers, mountain ranges, and a penguin. Though almost forgotten today, Humboldt was the most famous scientist of his time.
His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether exploring deep into the rainforest or climbing the world's highest volcanoes. He saw nature as a web of life and amazingly predicted harmful, human–induced climate change in 1800. He turned scientific observation into poetic narrative, and his writings inspired naturalists and poets, including Darwin and Goethe, as well as politicians, such as Jefferson.
This talk by historian and author Andrea Wulf focuses on Humboldt's insight that there is a bond between the arts and the sciences, between imagination, poetry, and meticulous observation. He insisted we should use our feelings as well as scientific data to understand the world around us. The Invention of Nature brings this lost hero to science and forgotten father of environmentalism back to life.
This event is part of the James Michelin Distinguished Visitors Program, presented by the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The talk is free, with no tickets or reservations required.
Wulf will also give lectures on October 15 and October 17 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
About the Speaker
Andrea Wulf is the author of five acclaimed books. The Brother Gardeners won the 2010 American Horticultural Society Book Award, and her books Founding Gardeners and The Invention of Nature were on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Wulf has written for many newspapers, including the Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times. She writes a regular column on the history of science for the Atlantic. In 2014, she co-presented a four-part BBC TV garden series, and she appears regularly on radio.
The Invention of Nature won the prestigious Costa Biography Award in 2015 and the Royal Geographical Ness Award (UK), the inaugural James Wright Award for Nature Writing, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2016. It was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in 2015 and was chosen as one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 by the New York Times. The book was also shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2016.