A 19th-Century Expedition To The Rim Of A Volcano

In a new graphic novel, scientist and polymath Alexander von Humboldt leads an intrepid band of scientists to catalog traces of life in a barren land.

The following is an excerpt of The Adventures Of Alexander Von Humboldt written by Andrea Wulf and illustrated by Lillian Melcher.

an assortment of leaves with text: "After an exhausting month in Guanajuato, we leave on 10 september 1803 to make our way south. Our destination is Jorullo—a volcano that formed after an earthquake over the course of one single night in 1759. Apparently it's 4,400 feet high with a crater more than a mile in diameter. There is no question... I have to investigate it.
characters walking through jungle. Person 1: Bonpland is so happy again. Person 2: He's been humming all day. Person 3: We should name the pretty violet flower he collected yesterday Bonplandia geminiflora in his honor... he deserves it. Person 4: Aren't they beautiful? Zinnias, asters, fuchsias, hibiscus... If you had told mewhen we were on Chimborazo that one day I'd be looking forward to climbing another volcano... I would have not believed it.
Group of four in barren, mountainous landscape. Narrator: Jorullo, September 1803. Person 1: Mon diev!! Person 2: Don Alexander, it's a desert of mini-volcanoes—as far as I can see. Person 3: And so many are still steaming—there must be a thousand or even more.
Group of four in barren, mountainous landscape. Person 1: Are you going to measure their temperature? Person 2: 210 degrees F... imagine how hot it must be inside? Let's have a proper look at the six large volcanoes over there.
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Four characters scaling up side of a mountain. Narrator: The next day we climb up to the rim of the largest of the volcanos. It's hot and the ground is covered with a thick layer of ash, which makes the ascent almost impossible. Person 1: Aaaaaahhhhhhh... José, is the barometer safe? José? José? Person 2: I'm fine... as is the barometer. Person 3: 87.13 degrees F. Arghhh... the sulfur smoke is everywhere. This is how I imagine hell must be. Look, there are some plants, Montufar... it can't be hell then!
two characters on a volcano's edge. Narration: After much sliding and tumbling, we reach the top of the rim, where we realize that we went up the wrong slope. The other side of the crater is higher... and that's where I need to measure the altitude. Person 1: Let's go over there! Person 2: Really have you seen how narrow the rim is? Person 1: Are we really humping over these? Person 2: A careful step will do. See the crust around the edges? Sulfur deposits... very brittle. You really don't want to break through... it's so hot underneath that you'll burn to the bone in no time. Person 1: As always... my friend... so comforting. My face is burning. Person 2: Mine too. I've never experienced temperatures like this. Person 1 (holding a thermometer above the volcano's edge): The temperature of the air is 140 degrees F!!! As I said... hell! Person 2: Wait until we've reached the bottom of the crater. Person 3 (in group): We are going down there? Person 4: Into the crater???? Alexander, you've lost your mind! Narrator: Of course I haven't lost my mind! I'm entirely serious about this. I already missed out on Cotopaxi's eruption... and nothing is going to stop me from climbing into this crater.
characters in forbidding looking valley. Person 1 (shouting): We're in the forge of the cyclops! Person 2: He's gone mad... and for some reason is talking about ancient greek mythology. Person 3: What's that supposed to mean? Person 4: Well, the cyclops was believed to have been trapped in Mount Etna... and once in awhile when he lost his temper, the volcano erupted. Quite a suitable analogy, if you ask me...
Illustration of severely burnt hand and torn pants. Narrator: We make it out of the crater without any accidents...except for torn trousers, burned faces and bleeding hands covered in blisters and cuts. Two weeks later (and after climbing another volcano... Nevado de Toluca, the fourth highest peak in Mexico, we're back in Mexico City.

Excerpted from The Adventures Of Alexander Von Humboldt written by Andrea Wulf and illustrated by Lillian Melcher. Text copyright © 2019 by Andrea Wulf and illustrations copyright © 2019 by Lillian Melcher. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Writers

About Andrea Wulf

Andrea Wulf is the author of The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt (Pantheon, 2019), The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (Knopf, 2015), and The Founding Gardeners (Knopf, 2011). She’s based in London, England.

About Lillian Melcher

Lillian Melcher is an illustrator living and working in Boston, MA. Her first book is The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt (Pantheon, 2019) written by Andrea Wulf.

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