Review: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

Andrea Wulf in conversation at the Science Museum in London | Credit: Talita Bateman

Andrea Wulf in conversation at the Science Museum in London | Credit: Talita Bateman

This week, the Science Museum in London hosted an event featuring Andrea Wulf's latest book 'The Invention of Nature: The adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt - the lost hero of science'. The event was organised by the British Society for the History of Science and was presented in a conversation format between Wulf herself and Gaia Vince, the author of 'Adventures in the Anthropocene'.

 
If I had to describe Hulboldt in just one word, it would be restless.
— Andrea Wulf
 

Wulf started off by describing what motivated her to write about Humboldt. She briefly covered her travels to the same places he visited and her research into both his personal life and career goals. She discussed Humboldt's passion for nature and his then novel vision of nature as a living organism. She talked about his upbringing, personal connections and personality flaws. She reminded everyone of a man who viewed nature as a fragile ecosystem that could be easily destroyed by human actions. A man, who Wulf described as 'the bridge between the sciences and the arts'. 

Andrea Wulf presenting Humboldt's species and stats map on Chimborazo | Credit: Talita Bateman

Andrea Wulf presenting Humboldt's species and stats map on Chimborazo | Credit: Talita Bateman

Andrea Wulf and Gaia Vince in discussion | Credt: Talita Bateman

Andrea Wulf and Gaia Vince in discussion | Credt: Talita Bateman

I have to say that I very much appreciate how this was refreshingly presented from a female's perspective. I felt that having Gaia there made the conversation flow in a natural and relaxed way. It was also pretty amusing to have their views on not only Humboldt himself, but also a time in which science was entirely dominated by males. That's not to say that the focus of the talk was feminism - in fact, I don't believe that they explicitly mentioned gender inequality during the presentation at all. However, I would be lying if I told you that my feminist side didn't appreciate an all-female panel talk on an award winning book, written by a female author about a male scientist and explorer. 

It was fun to hear about Humboldt's connection to South America. I had wondered why he hadn't crossed into Brazil, especially considering the areas of South America that he had explored. However, after reading the book and listening to Wulf talk about the passport granted to him by the Spanish king, that little mystery was solved. It was also interesting to hear that Humboldt never managed to go to India. It seems that his critique of the Spanish ruling in South America was definitely a barrier to getting the consent from the British.   

I won't say much more about the book itself as I genuinely think that it's worth a read. I think that Wulf did an incredible job and I'm looking forward to seeing what else she comes up with - bring it on!