Elentarri's Book Blog

Book reviews and other interesting goodies.

The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved is an overly chatty book that takes a superficial look at the uses of earthworms.  I felt the author spent too much page space regurgitating what Darwin had to say about earthworms and going on about her worm bin and her garden.  There wasn't nearly as much information about earthworms as I had hoped, just generally the stuff one learns in junior high-school biology class and the odd factoid, and no diagrams.  I did however find the chapters on land reclamation and sewage treatment informative.

 

 

 

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves - Neal Stephenson

"The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

Seveneves is an entertaining, complex and thought provoking hard-science fiction book that takes a look at humanity, the good and the bad, during an apocalyptic event.

 

The book is split into three sections.  The first sections deals with humanities' preparation for the cataclysm that will result from the split moon.  The second section focuses on the people in space immediately after the cataclysm, who have the task of keeping the human species alive or the duration of the catastrophe.  The third part of the book takes a look at what happens when the Earth is made habitable again five thousand years after the cataclysm.

The author has a fondness for lengthy explanations and descriptions of new environments, but is short of character development.  There is a great deal of focus on hard science in this novel - everything from orbital mechanics, robotics and the physics of keeping a space station in space to genetic engineering and psychology.  However, this story is still enthralling, the world building is fascinating and the character cast entertaining and their interactions complex.  I enjoyed this book immensely, but wish there was more to the second and third sections.  There are some poignant moments, some funny moments, feats of heroics, and then there are the moments where you wish you could toss a particular character out the airlock!  

NOTE:  Seveneves is a palindrome.

 

The Planet in a Pebble by Jan Zalasiewicz

The Planet in a Pebble: A journey into Earth's deep history - Jan Zalasiewicz

TITLE:  The Planet in a Pebble

 

AUTHOR:  Jan Zalasiewicz

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2012

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780199645695

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

“Take a pebble.  A slate pebble, say, from a beach in Wales.  Look at its rich grey, cut by veins of white quartz.  Look closely.  There are other markings too…”

 

The Planet in a Pebble is the story of the Earth as determined from a single pebble, from the depth of time and across the far reaches of space to its current existence.  The many events in the Earth’s past that can be deciphered from the subject pebble include:  the Big-Bang;  solar system creation; planet creation; volcanic eruptions; magnetic fields, the lives and deaths of extinct organic species;  the nature of long-vanished oceans;  transformations in the depth of the earth;  the creation of fool’s gold and of oil; and tectonics. 

 

Jan Zalasiewicz demonstrates, in an accessible and lyrical manner, how geologists reach deep into the Earth's past by forensic analysis of even the tiniest amounts of mineral matter to discover aspects of Earth’s history.   However, while the writing style is entertaining and accessible, there is some technical vocabulary that may be confusing for non-geologists, but this can’t be helped in a book like this.  None of this technical vocabulary is incomprehensible with a bit of application of grey matter.

 

The author shows how many stories are crammed into each and every pebble around us, no matter how ordinary the pebble.  But this pebble is also a part of the Earth’s amazing journey through time.  Taking a look at the history of the Earth by what can be told by a single pebble is an unusual and novel method for a science book that I rather enjoyed.

 

Blood Bank by Tanya Huff

Blood Bank - Tanya Huff

An entertaining collection of short stories in the Vicki Nelson series. Each story is just as good as a full sized novel.

Blood Debt by Tanya Huff

Blood Debt - Tanya Huff

From the blurb:

It began with a ghost in his bedroom. A tormented soul hungry for vengeance, The sort of nocturnal visitation that even a five-hundred-year-old vampire like Henry Fitzroy found tiresome. It would lead Vicki Nelson, PI, into her most deadly investigation yet.

The wraith is determined that Henry and Vicki track down its killer - and is prepared to use a little persuasion by way of the innocent inhabitants of Toronto to ensure their support. Forced to investigate, Vicki discovers a host of souls in desperate torment and evidence to suggest that trailing the killer will only lead to further deaths - starting with her own.

 

An entertaining, nail-biting addition to the Vicki Nelson series. This book (and the series in general) is all about the characters, and not so much about the mystery that requires solving.

The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions - Peter Brannen

TITLE:  The Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses

 

AUTHOR:  Peter Brannen

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  June 2017

 

FORMAT:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  9780062364821

 

_________________________________________________

 

Peter Brannen explores the 5 great extinction events, and in the process offers the reader a glimpse of our future.  Everything from striking meteors, supervolcanoes, anoxic oceans, ice-ages, heat-waves, plate tectonics, supercontinents, too many trees, and the role of carbon dioxide are discussed.  This is ultimately a climate change book, with the author continually bashing the reader over the head with how destructive humans are.  The author manages to discuss the science aspects of the 5 great extinction events in a reasonably decent manner considering that this is a popular science book and doesn’t include many technical details.  However, the exaggerated “evil humans / climate change” diatribe inserted approximately every 4th paragraph is annoying and detracts from the extinction story of the earth.  He could have included those sections in a separate chapter or even at the end of each chapter if he felt that strongly about the matter.  In addition, when the author does include numbers, he often doesn’t tell us where he comes up with them and I find his maths a bit off.  The book includes photographs but it could have done with a geological timeline.  This isn’t a bad book; it is certainly interesting and reads like a mystery novel if you ignore the anthropogenic global warming hysterics.  I found this book to be an interesting and useful summary of the possible causes of the 5 great extinctions that this planet has experienced. 

 

NOTE:  The footnotes of the e-book don’t link up to the notes section. 

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

 

  • -The Goldilocks Planet: The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
  • -The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth’s History by David Beerling
  • -When Life nearly Died by Michael J Benton
  • -The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall
  • -Under a Green Sky by Peter D. Ward
  • -Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane
  • -Extinction by Douglas H. Erwin

 

The Flat Book Society - Reminder to vote

Reblogged from Murder by Death:

Just a reminder for those that belong to The Flat Book Society to vote for the books you'd like to read In September and November.

 

Voting will 'close' for these first two reads on August 15th, although the voting will remain open indefinitely for future reads in 2018.

 

If you have a book (or books) on your TBR that you think would fit the group, please feel free to add it to the voting list, using the field at the bottom of the voting page.  Books can be added at any time and will only come off the list if they don't fit the reading mandate, or if they're chosen for a group read (or have been there forever and gotten no love at all from anybody). 

 

If you think you'd like to join a group reading some laid-back science, please feel free to join us.

Blood Pact by Tanya Huff

Blood Pact - Tanya Huff

From the blurb:

 

It began with the call no daughter ever wants to get, the call that told private investigator Vicki Nelson her mother had died. Mrs. Nelson's coworker at the Queen's University Life Science Department told Vicki that the cause of death was a heart attack, and that they'd be waiting for her to arrive in Kingston to make the funeral arrangements. But what started as an all too normal personal tragedy soon became the most terrifying case of Vicki's career. For when Marjory Nelson's body mysteriously disappeared from the funeral home, Vicki, her sometime lover and fellow investigator, vampire Henry Fitzroy, and her former homicide squad partner, Detective-Sergeant Mike Celluci, realized that there was something unnatural about her mother's demise. Vicki swore she'd find the culprit, and see that her mother was properly laid to rest. But what she hadn't counted on was that someone at Queen's University seemed determined to keep Mrs. Nelson on the job -- alive or dead!

 

This is an enjoyable, entertaining, fast-paced mystery/thriller, urban fantasy novel with great characters.  The characters make this series.  The ending was rather unexpected and surprising.

 

 

NOTE:  This is book 4 of the series.  Each novel is a contained story, but the characters develop as the series progresses so you really should read them in the correct order.

The Amoeba in the Room by Nicholas P. Money

The Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes - Nicholas P. Money

TITLE:  The Amoeba in the Room - Lives of the Microbes

 

AUTHOR:  Nicholas P. Money

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 

FORMAT:  Hardback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-19-966593-8

 

 

REVIEW:

 

The Amoeba in the Room is a lovely high-level overview and review of microbes (viruses, fungi, bacteria, archae, protists) and their importance in the biosphere. 

 

The author does include some scientific terminology, but nothing that is too complicated with a bit of grey-matter application.  Professor Money’s love of nature and microbes shines through in the text, with the addition of humorous and interesting ways of looking at the mundane.

 

“To approach a meaningful picture of marine biology, we need to put aside the things studied by zoologists.  A sushi bar to end all sushi bars will foster the necessary thought experiment.  Every morsel of marine muscle must be eaten in the last supper:  all the hagfish, lampreys, sharks, rays and bony fish are diced, rolled in sticky rice, wrapped in seaweed, kissed with soy sauce, and swallowed; the red meat from whales, dolphins, manatees, and walruses works well as sashimi and sea turtles make soup; all the oysters slip down with the assistance of cold white wine, all the squid are crunched calamaried; orange sea urchin gonads make a sloppy topping for sushi rolls and jellyfish can be fried.  Crabs ad lobsters are dispatched after boiling, along with the related sea spiders, barnacles, and fish lice.  This is a lot of food:  fish, great whales, and Antarctic krill alone weigh more than 1 000 million tons.  That leaves the sponges and comb jellies, penis worms and other worms, and exotics like mud dragons, but most the gustatory labor is over and the ocean is much clearer for it.  Now we can turn our full attention to the 90% of living things in the sea that cannot be seen without a microscope.”

 

 

The book is organized by environment, with chapters examining marine microbes, other water and soil microbes, airborne microbes, extreme-living microbes and those microbes that make the human body their home.  The author makes the case that the biological action of the earth is not in the visible fauna but in the microbes.  He also suggests that conservation should focus on habitats rather than a collection of animals.  Professor Money argues for nothing less than a revolution in our perception of the living world:  the animals and plants we see are just froth on a vast ocean of single-celled protists, bacteria, and viruses that constitute most of life on earth.

 

Professor Money’s book was an enjoyable and informative exploration of the astonishing extent of the microbial world and the vast swathes of biological diversity that are now becoming recognized using molecular methods.  

 

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED MICROBIAL BOOKS:

 

  • -March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen by John L. Ingraham, Roberto Kolter

 

  • -The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery, Anne Biklé

 

  • -I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

 

  • -Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

 

  • -Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

 

  • -The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today by Rob Dunn

 

  • -Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

 

  • -The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds by John Tyler Bonner

 

  • -Life's Engines: How Microbes made the Earth Habitable by Paul G. Falkowski

 

  • -Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

 

  • -Tales From The Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life by David W. Wolfe

 

  • -Spillover: Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

 

  • -The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Michael Shnayerson, Mark J. Plotkin

 

  • -The New Killer Diseases: How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy, Mark Fischetti

 

  • -An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett, George Armelagos
  • Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Trudy M. Wassenaar

 

  • -Virolution by Frank Ryan

 

  • -Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

 

  • -This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society by Kathleen McAuliffe

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall

The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions - Paul B. Wignall

TITLE:  The Worst of Times:  How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions

 

AUTHOR:  Paul B. Wignall

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  2017 (Second printing, first paperback printing)

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-691-17602-4

 

 

REVIEW:

 

260 million years ago, life on Earth suffered several waves of catastrophic extinctions, with the worst extinction wiping out over 90% of species on the planet.   In this book, Professor Wignall investigates the worst 80 million years in Earth’s history, a time marked by two mass extinctions (the end Permian and the Triassic) and four lesser crises; and sheds light on the fateful role the supercontinent of  Pangea  might have played in causing these global catastrophes.   These global catastrophes all have two factors in common:  (1) they occurred when the world’s continents were united into the single continent of Pangea; and (2) they coincided with gigantic volcanic eruptions.  The period covered in this book begins in the middle of the Permian Period, spans the entire Triassic, and finishes in the Early Jurassic. 

 

This book examines what happened during the Permo-Jurassic extinctions of Pangea, evaluate what may have caused these catastrophes (more specifically, to ask, how volcanism could have done it?), and finally to understand whether the resilience of the biosphere has changed in 260 million years or whether it has just become luckier thanks to continental separation i.e. are supercontinents bad for life.

 

Wignall examines each of the extinction events in chronological order, with numerous illustrations/diagrams as necessary to help clarify the text.  One complaint other reviewers have written about is the scientific jargon used in this book, but I have no idea how the author was supposed to make a strong argument for his hypothesis without the relevant terminology.  However, I did not consider the use of scientific terms to be excessive or complicated - the author does not go into excruciating chemical detail; he states what happens and why in understandable terms. 

 

This is primarily a book about a time when Earth was very different, a time of supercontinents, super-oceans, and super-eruptions, and above all, an age of mass extinctions.  I found the writing to be clear and logical and the book to be thoroughly enjoyable and informative.

 

 

 

 

The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes by L.H. Spelman & T.Y Mashima (Eds)

Rhino with Glue-On Shoes, The: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients - Lucy H Spelman, Ted Y Mashima

 

TITLE:  The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and their Patients 

 

AUTHOR: Lucy H. Spelman (Editor), Ted Y. Mashima (Editor)

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:   9780385341479

 

REVIEW:

 

This fascinating book offers a rare glimpse into the world of zoo and wild animals and the veterinarians who take care of them. The book contains a compilation of 28 stories written by the veterinarians involved in each case. Each story is fairly brief, which makes page-turning very easy. As with any compilation, the writing style and quality changes from one story to the next, but the various authors were able to bring us along on their adventures in an appealing way. The book also does a good job of tying together the clinical aspects of zoological medicine with the conservation and public health roles within the realm of wildlife health. Including such stories as a hippo with a tooth-ache, a giraffe with splints, an elephant in a snare, dolphin rescues, a rhino with sore feet, dung beetles with parasites, fish with the bends, and many more stories, this book manages to entertain and educate.

 

 

Blood Lines (Blood Books) - Tanya Huff

From the blurb:  

 

Sealed away through unending centuries in a sarcophagus never meant to be opened, he had patiently waited for the opportunity to live again, for the chance to feed on the unwary and grow strong. Now, at last, the waiting had come to an end. Brought to the Egyptology Department of Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, the seals and spells that imprisoned him chipped away by his discoverers, he reached forth to claim the minds and souls of the unsuspecting city dwellers, to begin building an empire for himself and his god. And only three people had even a hint that anything was wrong.

 

For Henry Fitzroy, 450-year-old vampire, it began with a haunting, inescapable image of the sun, a terrifying symbol of death to one such as he. Fearing for his sanity, he called upon his sometime-lover and comrade in supernatural investigations, ex-cop Vicki Nelson, for help. And even as the two struggled to cope with Henry's obsession, Vicki's closest friend and former partner, Police Detective Mike Celluci was following up on two mysterious deaths at the museum, certain he was looking at murders not accidents - and equally convinced that the killer was a mummy brought back from the dead!

 

This is another action-packed, detective, urban-fantasy novel in the Blood Series by Tanya Huff.  These books make for entertaining reading.

Zoom: How Everything Moves by Bob Berman

Zoom: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees: How Everything Moves - Bob Berman

TITLE:  Zoom:  How Everything Moves,  From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees

 

AUTHOR:  Bob Berman

 

DATE OF PUBLICATION:  2014

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-78074-549-7

 

_________________

 

REVIEW:  

 

In this "pop-science" book, Bob Berman takes a whirl-wind tour around the many phenomena that have to do with motion.  He includes interesting stories that span astronomy, geology, biology, meteorology and history.  Everything from the exploding universe, runaway poles, magnetic fields, radiation, atoms, snow, ice, tides, tsunami, how clouds stay aloft, earth;s motion, in-tune mosquitoes, wind, air pressure, lightning, thunder, meteors, electricity, sneezes, animals, cells, and much more.

 

The author explains each phenomenon in an enthusiastic, clear and understandable manner, without bogging the reader down with complicated science. Bob Berman provides a new perspective on old "stuff" and also covers topics not usually covered in popular physics books.  Each chapter covers something different, so the reader can dip in and out without getting confused.  This book was a joy to read.

 

 

 

Blood Trail (Victoria Nelson, #2) - Tanya Huff

From the blurb:

 

"For centuries, the werewolves of Toronto have managed to live in peace and tranquility, hidden quietly away on their London, Ontario farm. But now, someone has learned their secret—and is systematically massacring this ancient race.

The only one they can turn to is Henry Fitzroy, Toronto-based vampire and writer of bodice rippers. Forced to hide from the light of day, Henry can’t hunt the killer alone, so he turns to Vicki Nelson for help. As they race against time to stop the murderer, they begin to fear that their combined talents may not be enough to prevent him from completing his deadly plan.
"

 

 

This is an entertaining, fun, action-packed, mystery-thriller-urban fantasy novel with strong characters and a decent plot.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

THE INVENTION of NATURE BY ANDREA WULF

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

TITLE:  The Invention of Nature:  Alexander von Humboldt's New World

 

AUTHOR:   Andrea Wulf

 

Publisher:  Knopf

 

Format:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-385-35067-9

 

 

BOOK REVIEW

 

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is not  a complete or in-depth biography, but rather a journey to discover the forgotten life (and far reaching influence) of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary Prussian naturalist and explorer whose ideas changed the way we perceive the natural world, and in the process created modern environmentalism. 

 

In this book, Wulf traces the threads that connect us to this extraordinary man, showing how Humboldt influenced many of the greatest artists, thinkers and scientists of his day.  However, today he is almost forgotten outside academia (due to politics and changing fashions), despite his ideas still shaping out thinking.  Ecologists, environmentalists and nature writers rely on Humboldt's vision, although most do so unknowingly.  It is the author's stated objective to "rediscover Humboldt, and to restore him to his rightful place in the pantheon of nature and science" and to "understand why we think as we do today about the natural world".    In my opinion, Andrea Wulf successfully shows the many fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.

 

Alexander von Humboldt was one of the founders of modern biology and ecology, and had a direct effect on scientists and political leaders.  Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists, politicians and poets such as Charles Darwin, Wordsworth, Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, John Muir and Thoreau.  The author successfully integrates Humboldt's life and activities into the political and social scene so we can get a picture of how important Humboldt was, and still is.  Many people considered him the most famous scientist of his age.

 

Humboldt was a hands-on scientist.  His expeditions of discovery led him through Europe, Latin America and eventually Siberia.  He strongly desired to see the Himalaya, but the East India Company didn't want to co-operate for fear that he would write unflattering comments about their form of governance.

 

Humboldt also continued to assist young scientists, artists and explorers throughout his life, often helping them financially despite his own debt. 

 

Alexander von Humboldt led a colourful and adventurous life, but this book also shows us why Humboldt is so important:

- he is the founding father of environmentalists, ecologists and nature writers.

- he made science accessible and popular - everybody learned from him.

- he believed that education was the foundation of a free and happy society.

- his interdisciplinary approach to science and nature is more relevant than ever as scientists are trying to understand man's effect on the world.

- his beliefs in the free exchange of information, in uniting scientists and in fostering communication across disciplines, are the pillars of science today.

- his concept of nature as one of global patterns underpins our thinking today.

- his insights that social, economic and political issues are closely connected to environmental problems remain topical today.

- he wrote about the abolition of slavery and the disastrous consequences of reckless colonialism.

 - he believed that knowledge had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everbody.

- he invented isotherms (the lines of temperature and pressure on weather maps).

- he discovered the magnetic equator.

- he developed the idea of vegetation and climate zones.

- his quantitative work on  botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography.

-  he was one of the first people to propose that South America and Africa were once joined.

- he was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change, based on observations made during his travels.

- he contributed to geology through his study of mountains and volcanoes.

- he was a significant contributor to cartography by creating maps of little-explored regions.

- his advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

- he revolutionized the way we see the natural world.

- he developed the web of life (the concept of nature as a chain of causes and effects).

- he was the first scientist to talk about human-induced environmental degradation.

- he was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate:  the tree's ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect.

- he warned that the agricultural techniques of his day could have devastating consequences.

- he discovered the idea of a keystone species (a species that is essential for an ecosystem to function) almost 200 years before the concept was named.

- he confirmed that the Casiquiare was a natural waterway between the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, which is a tributary of the Amazon, and made a detailed map.

- he considered the replacement of food crops with cash crops to be a recipe for dependency and injustice.  He felt that monoculture and cash crops did not create a happy society, and that subsistence farming, based on edible crops and variety, was a better alternative.

 

I found the chapters that describe Humboldt's expeditions to be fascinating - filled with hazards, wild animals, pests, injuries, epidemics, new discoveries and ideas.  The chapters that discuss his busy social and work life were also interesting.  However, I wish the author had spend more page space on his expeditions and discoveries, and less on the biographies of the people he influenced, especially the last few chapters which were somewhat long-winded.  What I found rather refreshing was the lack of author speculation and interjection of her own theories - the narrative sticks to what is known.  The author also manages to convey Humboldt's enthusiasm and energy so that the reader feels breathless just reading about all his activities.

 

This biographical search for the invention of nature and the man who "invented" it, provides a great deal of food for thought, woven around the life of a great (and overly energetic) scientist.  This was an enjoyable and informative reading experience.

 

 

 

NOTE:  This book includes three clear, easy to read maps that were particularly useful in following Humboldt's Journeys, and a large number of black and white, as well as colour illustrations were also included in the book.  In addition, the author included an extensive section of notes, sources and bibliography, an index and a note on Humboldt's publications.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (PROGRESS UPDATE)

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

PART 5:  NEW WORLDS: EVOLVING IDEAS

 

In Chapter 20 we learn how Europe has erupted into civil unrest and how Humboldt's balancing act between his liberal political views and his court duties were getting more difficult.  We also learn that Humboldt continued to assist young scientist, artists and explorers, often helping them financially despite his own debt.  In one way or another, he ruled over the destinies of scientists across the world.

 

"Since he had no family of his own, these young men were like his children."

 

In this chapter, Bonpland makes a re-appearance.  It's nice to finally find out how his story continues.

 

Despite his age and busy social and work schedule, Humboldt remained interested in everything new, especially the possibilities of technology.  Many considered the man to be the most famous scientist of his age.

 

Then, soon after dispatching the 5th volume of his book Cosmos, Humboldt collapses, and a few days later he dies, at age 89. 

 

"For many, Humboldt was, as the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV had said, simply 'the greatest man since the Deluge'."

 

Humboldt's work shaped two generations of scientists, artists, writers and poets.  The remainder of the section of the book is taken up with showing how Humboldt's ideas about nature, and his observations of anthropogenic ecological degradation influenced a selection of nature writers, artists and scientists - George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel, John Muir.  These people influenced our current view (and legislation) of the preservation, protection and use of nature as a resource. 

 

I liked how the author dealt with Humboldt's death and the global response to this.  This was a sad occasion and she manages to make the reader feel as if they have lost someone important.  However, I felt that the author's choice of influential nature people was rather limited and these chapters to be rather flowery in terms of language.  I would rather have read more about Humboldt than these fellows.