The Invention of Nature is Andrea Wulf’s biography of Prussian scientist-naturalist-ecologist-explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, whose travels in the Americas gave us Humboldt’s Penguin, amongst many, many other things, and whose renown resulted in place names ranging from Mare Humboldtianum on the moon to Humboldt University in Berlin. Most importantly, via the publications, lectures and correspondence that occupied Humboldt for the majority of his long life, he developed the concept that has been called Humboldtian science – a holistic view of science and nature, climate, the environment and ecology, and by extension encompassing art and society.
Whilst I am not a fan of getting up close and personal with birds, over the years I’ve become more interested in the spotter side of things. Weekends in Walton and Pembrokeshire whetted my appetite for learning more about the birds I see on visits to these coasts.
Adam Nicolson’s book is brilliant. It’s a series of detailed dives into the fascinating world of ten different sea birds, some familiar – gulls, cormorants, Manx shearwaters and puffins (thanks Steffi!), albatross (thanks Sue!); other less so – razorbills and fulmars. Each relativity short and very readable chapter covers that bird’s biology and evolution, history and scientific study, society and relationships, lives and travels. Above all, their travels are astounding.
Recommended, even for the reluctant avian nature lover.
The Worst Journey in the World has been on my reading list for a long time.
It’s Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the 1910-13 Nova Terra Expedition to Antarctica, where he was part of a three-man scientific research team that undertook the harrowing Winter Journey to collect the first specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs. This is The Worst Journey in the World of the title.
However the Nova Terra expedition is better known for the explorations undertaken by its leader, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, together with Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, and Edgar Evans, who succeeded in reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it. All five men died on their journey back from the pole.
I had hesitated to embark upon The Worst Journey in the World, fearing that Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s autobiographical analysis of the expedition would be a heavy going account reflecting the attitudes of Empire and the Edwardian era.
Sara Wheeler‘s introduction to the Vintage Classic edition I read dissolved my concerns, and I found this to be a fascinating and heart breaking read.
Superb writing on language, landscape and living on the land.
Lots of new words to use (well, to try and remember); lots of new books to read…
Looking forward to fuddling next time at Forty Acres, and to the accuracy of describing my Dolpo Expedition river crossing photos as “Crunching across the frozen mud and skim-ice to wade through the waters of the upper Barbung Khola”.
“Other places” isn’t really the right category/genre for this but it’s the closest I’ve got (other than “Too tricky to categorise” – so I’m going to tick that too….)