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Cosmos

Alexander von Humboldt

Book Overview: 

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of romantic philosophy. Many consider him to be the last of the great polymaths. After his death in 1859, the scientific world began to divide into separate disciplines, each with its own knowledgeable but narrowly defined experts. Humboldt’s mind encompassed all that was then known of nature in one great whole.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . our perception of the richness of individual parts, the fullness of physical phenomena, and of the heterogeneous properties of matter becomes enlarged. From the regions in which we recognize ony the dominion of the laws of attraction, we descend to our own planet, and to the intricate play of terrestrial forces. The method here described for the delineation of nature is opposed to that which mst be pursued in establishing conclusive results. The one enumerates what the other demonstrates.

Man learns to know the external world through the organs of the senses. Phenomena of light proclaim the existence of matter in remotest space, and the eye is thus made the medium through which we may contemplate the universe. The discovery of telescopic vision more than two centuries ago, has transmitted to latest generations a power whose limits are as yet unattained.

The first and most general consideration of the Cosmos is that of the . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Great read: part adventure, part philosophy. I like the way Humboldt worked to unite the arts and sciences into a unified understanding of the cosmos, a word Humboldt brought back from the Greek and infused with new meaning. Sad how little recognition Humboldt gets in the English speaking world....more

Aaron Sachs' book, The Humboldt Current was the book which introduced me to Alexander von Humboldt and put him into a larger context. Andrea Wulf's book on von Humboldt made him more tangible in a way. He became a person who had many interests and acted on all of them. He was a keen observer of a...more

I fell in love with Alexander von Humboldt when I read Andrea Wulf's Invention of Nature and wanted to read him in his own words. I hope this translation was up to his standards. According to Wulf, he was very picky and quite annoyed by some of the translations of his books.

When Darwin read Cosm...more