The Invention of Nature - Reading Update: Part 1

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

We snatch in vain at Nature's veil,

She is mysterious in broad daylight,

No screws or levers can compel to reveal

The secrets she has hidden from our sight.

I'm really enjoying this so far. I have a soft spot for Faust but had no idea that it was part inspired by Humboldt - or that he was so closely connected with the Weimar set.

 

What I am really enjoying in the book so far is how Wulf doesn't just throw in place names in the expectation that readers will be able to picture the scenes but manages to add snippets of description to highlight that the places in Humboldt's day were less developed and, more importantly, less accessible that any Google image or map search would have you believe.

 

I liked that she added that Weimar may have been an intellectual hot spot but it still had cattle being driven through its streets and that there was no reliable postal service - hence Goethe exchanging letters with Schiller in Jena by way of his greengrocer! I had to laugh at this one. I mean, imagine it...the letters of arguably the two most famous German literary figures delivered with the weekly shopping?

 

The other mentions I was curious about were that of Freiberg and that of the breathing mask and mining lamp Humboldt developed. I grew up not far from Freiberg, my dad went to uni there, and mining has shaped much of the region's history and landscape. 

Unfortunately, the book does not mention much about the two inventions, but I understand from other sources that the lamp was a forerunner of the Davy Lamp, which would have made a huge impact on working conditions in the mines. I am now curious about how exactly that lamp worked and the safety stats before and after the development of the lamp, but I'm not sure this is information that will be easy to dig up.

 

Looking forward to Part II already.