This is one of the finest books that I have ever had the great pleasure to read and enjoy. It is the story of Alexander von Humbolt (1769-1859)who was a famous scientist and one of the greatest men in history. One of the last truly universal men, Humbolt was personally acquainted with Goethe, Jefferson, Napolean, Josephine, Cuvier, Laplace, Frederick the Great, Pitt, Schiller, Bismark, Simon Bolivar, and so many others. But his personal acquaintenances are only part of the story. This was a fascinating and unique man who lived in a richly historical time, which this book sheds much light upon.
Humbolt was born in Prussia but spent much of his adult life in his beloved Paris. He traveled through parts of South America, Mexico, North America, Europe and part of Asia, making contributions to man's knowledge of science all along the way and becoming world famous in the process. Humbolt was a man of towering intellect, strong determination to succeed, and boundless energy. He laid the foundations for such fields as modern physical geography. Several terms he coined (such as "Jurassic") are still in use today and he wrote many thousands of pages in his books, including Cosmos, a monumental effort to describe a unified vision of the universe. As scientist and explorer, Humbolt left his name on the maps of 5 continents. There is even a moon crater named after him. He held the world high-altitude climbing record for 30 years.
Humbolt was also a kind, gentle man with liberal democratic views, a fondness for the principles of the 1789 revolution, a belief in the equality of all races, and a strong distaste for slavery. As a diplomat in troubled times, he worked for the benefit of both the strong and the weak. He was a dedicated patron and supporter of struggling young scientists and helped many, such as Louis Agassiz to survive in their early years even when he himself struggled to make ends meet. Humbolt was a man far ahead of his time in many ways and was justifyably admired by thousands all over the world.
Botting's treatment of his subject is respectful, at times reverential, and always interesting. The author also explores the contributions and lives of Humbolt's companions such as Aime Bonpland, and his brother Wilhelm von Humbolt.
The book is lavishly illustrated with a vast number of both color and black and white plates. It is hard to find but well worth the effort!