NONFICTION

The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer Who Ever Lived

The Experiment. Sept. 2019. 112p. further reading. websites. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781615196319.
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Gr 3-7– On the occasion of the subject’s 250th birthday, German author Mehnert traces the adventures of the man Goethe once called the most significant conversational partner of his life. Though born into a wealthy and privileged family, Alexander von Humboldt struggled in his early years against the stifling expectations of his family. From a young age, however, he was taken with the natural world, first exploring the family’s grounds, then broadening his travels to Europe. Returning home at the insistence of his family, he spent several years as a mining inspector. In this position, he invented several tools to help miners perform their jobs more safely and effectively. After his mother’s death, von Humboldt liberated himself from social expectations and set off for South America along with his friend, the botanist Aimé Bonpland. The two explored the Caribbean coastland, made their way to the interior, trekked through the Andes highlands, and reached the Pacific coast. Along the way, they learned about the languages and cultures of the Indigenous people they encountered. When they could, they protested the exploitation of Indigenous and enslaved people. Later in life, von Humboldt traveled to other lands, always with exploration upmost in his agenda. This text offers an exhaustive overview of his adventures but rarely goes into details, so that the reader winds up fully informed, though not entranced. Flat illustrations in drab colors proclaim the seriousness of the text while offering little in the way of excitement. Three useful maps assist in understanding the geographical aspects of the journeys.
VERDICT This is a comprehensive and respectful resource regarding a little-known 19th-century explorer and naturalist, but a prosaic and fairly dull book to read through.

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