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Personal Narrative of Travels - Volume 2

Alexander von Humboldt

Book Overview: 

In 1799, with extensive travel permissions from the Spanish government, Alexander von Humboldt and the botanist Aimé Bonpland departed for the Americas on a journey of exploration that would last well into 1804. In writing the “Personal Narrative…”, von Humboldt combined a description of the places and people of their travels with diverse scientific observations; but particularly of plants and animals, geology, weather and astronomy. von Humboldt’s narrative (and Thomasina Ross’s translation) of their adventures is marvelously well written and at times poetically descriptive. Volume I of the “Personal Narrative….”, covers their preparations, departure from Spain, and their travels to the Canary Islands, Tobago, Cumana and vicinity, and Caracas and vicinity in Venezuela. Alexander von Humboldt was a member of the Prussian aristocracy. He was well educated and as a young man worked as an inspector of mines. After receiving an inheritance from his Mother, he was able to follow his desire to explore and follow scientific pursuits, and was sufficiently wealthy to equip and fund his scientific expeditions. Although not a household name today (unless you live in one of the 18 places named after him), von Humboldt was the best known naturalist of his day, and his published observations and interpretations have a very important place in the history of science. For example, he strongly influenced Charles Darwin. He aimed to find the universal principles that integrate all aspects of nature (the Unity of Nature) rather than to just describe and as such is considered to be the founder of biogeography; and he is recognized as being among the first to describe the effect of human activity on climate.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Canopus and the Southern Cross; but unfortunately we were uncertain whether, on leaving the farm, we had gone towards the east or the south. We attempted to return to the spot where we had bathed, and we again walked three quarters of an hour without finding the pool. We sometimes thought we saw fire on the horizon; but it was the light of the rising stars enlarged by the vapours. After having wandered a long time in the savannah, we resolved to seat ourselves beneath the trunk of a palm-tree, in a spot perfectly dry, surrounded by short grass; for the fear of water-snakes is always greater than that of jaguars among Europeans recently disembarked. We could not flatter ourselves that our guides, of whom we knew the insuperable indolence, would come in search of us in the savannah before they had prepared their food and finished their repast. Whilst somewhat perplexed by the uncertainty of our situation, we were agreeably affected by hearing from afar the sound of a horse . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Interesting primary source but a little dry at times. Also has many racist remarks typical of the time.

Humboldt's travelogue through Spanish America and the Canary Islands from 1799 to 1804 sound fresh and vivid. It's the closest thing to time-traveling. The author takes us to a time when practically all America south of the US border was one varied but politically unified entity. The 300 hundred...more

Humboldt's work doesn't contain all that much specific documentation of his scientific observations, as many natural historians before him did. It does, however, present as an intriguing Romantic work with many poetic descriptions of nature and the people who lived in the areas he visited. This b...more

I'd like to give this book 3-1/2 stars. I've read better travel accounts. But Humboldt was writing in the early 1800s. His native tongue was German, but he wrote in French, and this is a translation into English. It would have been helpful to have a better, more detailed map of the interior route...more

Another course book done and dusted, and oddly, rather enjoyed. I picked this up thinking that it was going to be another boring scientific read, and I was pleasantly surprised. Although it may be a rather dry read, I must say that Von Humboldt's enthusiasm for everything he saw on his travels is...more

If travel writing and natural history are your thing, Humboldt's Personal Narrative is a brisk and entertaining volume. Humboldt is a sympathetic and attentive observer of nature and human nature.

almost done, but easily one of the best books i've ever read

Alexander Von Humboldt's "Personal Narrative of A Title With Way Too Many Words". Feeling a bit cheated that it's only selections of his actual Narrative, but let's look past that for the moment. I'd expected something much along the lines of Darwin, but oh, how much more I am loving this. Not to...more

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