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Personal Narrative of Travels - Volume 1

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: 
. . . latter sometimes increases in an astonishing manner the temperature of the loftiest mountains. I have seen the thermometer rise, on the slope of the volcano of Antisana, in the kingdom of Quito, to 19 degrees, when we were 2837 toises high. M. Labillardiere has seen it, on the edge of the crater of the peak of Teneriffe, at 18.7 degrees, though he had used every possible precaution to avoid the effect of accidental causes.

On the summit of the Peak, we beheld with admiration the azure colour of the sky. Its intensity at the zenith appeared to correspond to 41 degrees of the cyanometer. We know, by Saussure's experiment, that this intensity increases with the rarity of the air, and that the same instrument marked at the same period 39 degrees at the priory of Chamouni, and 40 degrees at the top of Mont Blanc. This last mountain is 540 toises higher than the volcano of Teneriffe; and if, notwithstanding this difference, the sky is observed there to b. . . Read More

Community Reviews

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 yea

This book, which I read in original German is not quite what could be considered literature, but is a fascinating report on his long journey from France via the Canary Islands to Venezuela and later up the Orinoco to the then fully mysterious Casiquare canal and the Rio Negro. He reports of all the

Mi sono appassionato alla figura di Alexander von Humboldt soprattutto grazie alla biografia a lui dedicata ( che si chiama l'invenzione della natura). È stato uno scienziato e un esploratore, dotato di intuizioni visionarie. Il suo lascito più importante è proprio l'idea di natura come sistema inte

A fascinating adventure with a 19th Century polymath. This translation is highly readable and conversational. Humboldt's exploits in the Age of Enlightenment are populated with pirates, South American Indians, European Catholic missions, exotic flora and fauna, innumerable natural wonders, and the e

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 book

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 di

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