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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

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

I was inspired to read Personal Narrative, after reading Andrea Wulf’s incredible book, The Invention of Nature.

Out of the four Humboldt books I’ve read so far, this was the most engaging. It’s written in a conversational style which draws the reader in. Despite this being an abridged version, it w

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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