The Invention of Nature - Reading Update: Part 2

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

In Part 2 of the book, we accompany Humboldt and Bonplant on their trip to first Tenerife and then South America. 

 

There is only one question that I keep coming back to after having read this part, and that is:

 

How on earth did they survive that trip?

 

Mauled by mosquitoes, surrounded by dozens of other things that could kill them (jaguars, house cats, boa constrictors, crocs, ..., parasites, ...) the list is nigh endless, and yet, they seem to have come away relatively unscathed. 

 

Even fever and dysentery could not stop them from crossing part of the Andes. The Andes!!

 

They had no gear to speak of, their shoes were useless, they suffered from severe altitude sickness, freezing conditions, and yet, they survived.

 

This is also the part where Humboldt comes face to face with slavery and becomes an abolitionist. I look forward to looking this section up in his travelogue. There were issues in rural Prussia at around the same time, where a system of serfdom still existed. This was eventually made illegal in 1807 (effective 1810). While there are obvious differences between the treatment of slaves as witnessed by Humboldt and the treatment of peasant serfs back in Prussia, I am curious to see if he mentions any correlation in his own writings. 

 

I was also hooked on the descriptions of the use of agriculture and the emerging idea how the reliance on cash cultures is a really shortsighted expression of greed at the expense of the community.

 

Part II ends with Humboldt's meeting with Thomas Jefferson, which to me was the least interesting part of this section.