I’m sharing thoughts on reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf, one of the New York Times’ 10 best books of 2017.
Who is Alexander von Humboldt? The New York Times review of the book explains:
Alexander von Humboldt was the pre-eminent scientist of his time. Contemporaries spoke of him as second in fame only to Napoleon. All over the Americas and the English-speaking world, towns and rivers are still named after him, along with mountain ranges, bays, waterfalls, 300 plants and more than 100 animals. There is a Humboldt glacier, a Humboldt asteroid, a Humboldt hog-nosed skunk. Off the coast of Peru and Chile, the giant Humboldt squid swims in the Humboldt Current, and even on the moon there is an area called Mare Humboldtianum. Darwin called him the “greatest scientific traveler who ever lived.”
Huge in his time but little known today, despite indirect influence on us through Darwin, Thoreau, and Muir, among others.
I posted my first reflection last week, Beliefs and the Environment. The second is on Henry Thoreau, whom Humboldt influenced and inspired.
I turns out that even after living at Walden Pond, Thoreau took years to write Walden. If he took a while, what started his writing?
A sidcha (my emphasis):
Thoreau had begun to observe nature like a scientist. He measured and recorded, and his interest in this kind of detail became increasingly more urgent. Then, in autumn 1849, two years after he had left his cabin and just as the full extent of the failure of A Week became obvious, Thoreau made a decision that would change his life and give birth to Walden as we know it today. Thoreau completely reoriented his life with a new daily routine that required serious study everyone morning and evening, punctuated by a long afternoon walk. It was the moment when he took his first steps away from being just a poet who was fascinated by nature towards becoming one of America’s most important nature writers. Maybe it was the painful experience of publishing A Week, or his break with Emerson. Or maybe Thoreau had found the confidence to focus on what he adored. Whatever the reasons, everything changed.
This new regime marked the beginning of his scientific studies which included extensive daily journal writing. Every day, Thoreau would note what he had seen on his walks. These entries, which had previously been the odd fragment of observation but had mainly been draft passages for his essays and books, now became regular and chronological, documenting the seasons in Concord in all their intricacies. Instead of cutting up his journals to paste them into his literary manuscripts as he had done before, Thoreau left the new volumes intact. What had been random collections now became ‘Field Notes’.
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