09/18/2015

A Science Hero, Lost and Found

24:17 minutes

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, by Julius Schrader, 1859. Behind Humboldt are the mountains of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Humboldt's exploration of these peaks shaped his view of nature as a universal web. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of H. O. Havemeyer, 1889
Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, by Julius Schrader, 1859. Behind Humboldt are the mountains of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Humboldt’s exploration of these peaks shaped his view of nature as a universal web. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of H. O. Havemeyer, 1889

Alexander von Humboldt was a globetrotting explorer, scientist, environmentalist, and the second-most famous man in Europe…after Napoleon. So why haven’t you heard of him? Writer and historian Andrea Wulf’s new book, The Invention of Nature, aims to restore Humboldt to his rightful place in science history. Not only did this singular polymath pioneer the idea that nature is an interconnected system, but, Wulf argues, he was also the lost father of environmentalism. Ira speaks with Wulf about the man who inspired the likes of Darwin, Thoreau, and Muir, whom contemporaries called “the Shakespeare of the Sciences.” Read an excerpt here.

Humboldt’s famous “Tableau” of Ecuador’s Chimborazo volcano showed how the distribution of plants was linked to elevation. It was one of the earliest infographics of its kind. From "Essay on the Geography of Plants" (1807) {PD}
Humboldt’s famous “Tableau” of Ecuador’s Chimborazo volcano showed how the distribution of plants was linked to elevation. It was one of the earliest infographics of its kind. From “Essay on the Geography of Plants” (1807) {PD}

Segment Guests

Andrea Wulf

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

Meet the Producer

About Annie Minoff

Annie Minoff is co-host and producer of Undiscovered. She also plays the banjo.

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From Atop an Ecuadorian Peak, an Epiphany About Nature

An excerpt from "The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World."

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