Nature’s Interpreter: The Life and Times of Alexander von Humboldt

By Donald McCrory

An important new biography of the scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, based on the most recent research and scholarship.

ISBN: 9780718892319


Inspired by the remarkable life of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), this biography follows Humboldt from his childhood and early education in Prussia, his training as a mining engineer, his extensive travels in South America, Russia and Siberia to his outstanding contributions to our knowledge of the world we live in.

Rightly considered the founding father of Natural History, he was in his day as well known as Napoleon, and his travels and discoveries inspired countless other naturalists and explorers, including Charles Darwin. During their sojourn in Latin America from 1799 to 1804, he and his companion the botanist Aimé Bonpland sent back 6,000 new species of plants and herbs, rocks, minerals and animals. En route the scientists collected a mass of detailed information – “cartographical, geological, astronomical, botanical, anthropological and linguistic” – that took a life-time’s labour of love to prepare for publication.

Based in Paris from 1804 to 1827, Humboldt self-financed a series of publications leading to his major work and masterpiece, Kosmos, that ran to five volumes. To complete his task he began a vast correspondence with figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Washington Irvine, Sir Joseph Banks, Michael Faraday, Lavoisier, Gauss, and associated with kings, princes, courtiers, and the intelligentsia of his day: Brunel, Napoleon, the Kings of Prussia, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Goethe and Schiller and countless others.

Nature’s Interpreter contains original research based on the latest scholarship published by the Humboldt Research Centre, and draws extensively on material previously unavailable in English. Containing many illustrations and portraits, it both is an important contribution to our understanding of a key figure in the development of the natural sciences and a highly readable introduction to the intellectual milieu in which those sciences evolved.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 242

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Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

With degrees from Birkbeck College, King’s College and a PhD from Westfield College, Donald McCrory went on to teach modern languages in schools and colleges before being appointed Head of Languages at the American International University in London. Previous works include articles in modern language journals and books on European writers; his latest biography was No Ordinary Man: The Life and Times of Miguel de Cervantes. Dr McCrory has now taken early retirement to focus on writing (academic and creative) and on the study of other modern languages.


List of Illustrations

1. Growing up in Prussia
2. The Makings of a Scientist in the Age of the Enlightenment
3. Spain Supports Humboldt’s Quest
4. The Adventure Begins
5. The Power and Fertility of Nature
6. Cuba, Chimborazo and the Incas
7. ‘A microcosm in a leaf’: Sojourn in Mexico
8. The Commitment to a Universal Science
9. From Paris to Berlin: The New Cultural Capital of Europe?
10. Russia and Siberia
11. The Challenges Posed by Cosmos
12. Humboldt: King of Collaborators
13. Criticism, Creation and the Creative Process
14. Humboldt as a Foreign Correspondent
15. The Final Years: 1849-1859

Appendix: Chronology of the Life of Alexander von Humboldt
Select Bibliography