The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt

Pantheon. Apr. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9781524747374. $29.95. Rated: Teen+. BIOG
Inheriting a small fortune following his mother’s death and receiving special permission from the King of Spain, Prussian polymath, adventurer, and naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt (1769–1859) spent 1799–1804 exploring South America and Mexico. With botanist Aimé Boland at his side, von Humboldt investigated volcanoes, climbed Ecuador’s Mt. Chimborazo (believed at the time to be the tallest mountain in the world), forged rivers, experimented with electric eels, waded through swamps, interacted with indigenous cultures, and made numerous important scientific discoveries that would later influence Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and Simón Bolivar. He is also reportedly the first person to predict that human behavior might result in global climate change. Artist Melcher uses a dazzling combination of illustration and collage technique spread across oversized pages that swirls with text, diagrams, and sketches in order to mimic the look of an explorer’s notebook.
VERDICT Drawing on von Humboldt’s publications, diaries, and letters, Wulf (The Invention of Nature) brings her subject to life, cleverly allowing him to narrate his story in an affable if possibly anachronistic tone that makes the occasionally complicated scientific theory easily digestible. [See Prepub Alert, 10/29/18.]

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