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Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (Penguin Classics) [Abridged] [Paperback]

Alexander Humboldt , Jason Wilson , Malcolm Nicolson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: £11.69 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

30 Nov 1995 Penguin Classics
One of the greatest nineteenth-century scientist-explorers, Alexander von Humboldt traversed the tropical Spanish Americas between 1799 and 1804. By the time of his death in 1859, he had won international fame for his scientific discoveries, his observations of Native American peoples and his detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the 'new continent'. The first to draw and speculate on Aztec art, to observe reverse polarity in magnetism and to discover why America is called America, his writings profoundly influenced the course of Victorian culture, causing Darwin to reflect: 'He alone gives any notion of the feelings which are raised in the mind on first entering the Tropics'.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 Nov 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140445536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140445534
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Twelve years have elapsed since I left Europe to explore the interior of the New Continent. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Paperback
This abridged version of Humboldt’s “Personal Narrative” gives us an enjoyable taste of the travels of the scientist and explorer in South America between 1799 and 1804.

Humboldt did not just study nature; he also enjoyed its beauty, and the book contains vivid descriptions of the sights he saw. He wrote that: “No words can evoke the feelings of a naturalist who first steps on soil outside Europe.”

This is very similar to how Charles Darwin later described his feelings on first setting foot in a Brazilian forest in “The Voyage of the Beagle”.

Humboldt’s Narrative had a big influence on Darwin when he first read it as a student at Cambridge. It contributed both to Darwin’s urge to travel and to his desire to contribute something to scientific knowledge. He even took a copy of Humboldt’s book on the Beagle with him. Later, when Darwin’s own “Voyage” book was published, Darwin was delighted when Humboldt himself praised it.

Another link between Humboldt and Darwin is the fact that both were strongly opposed to slavery. Humboldt wrote this, for example:

“Nowhere else in the world seems more appropriate to dissipate melancholy and restore peace to troubled minds than Tenerife and Madeira. These effects are due not only to the magnificent situation and to the purity of the air, but above all to the absence of slavery, which so deeply revolts us in all those places where Europeans have brought what they call their “enlightenment” and their “commerce” to their colonies.”

In his science Humboldt was a polymath whose research covered anthropology, biology, botany, geography, geology, zoology and more. But he also saw that nature was an interconnected whole and that “Everything is interrelated”.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Under-rated explorer 18 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Von Humbolt writes clearly, matter-of-fact and shows modernity in thought. You can see how Darwin and the later Victorian explorers were influenced by his narrative. Truly great man, but under-rated and nowadays almost written out of history. The introduction was a bit pedestrian but reasonably informative.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I admit to not reading the whole of the introductory text but what I read was useful. I then skipped to Humboldt's narrative and was pleased with how enjoyable it was to read and felt familiar with his way of discovering new places despite the centuries of time in between. Very much a travel story describing the natural environment, people and places but light on his more scientific findings. I sat with large maps of both Tenerife and Venezuela by my side which helped in understanding the scale of exploration on foot, with mules and in canoes. Would definitely recommend reading this for fireside pleasure and certainly if lucky enough to visit these places.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars woefully incomplete, poorly edited, superficial introduction 21 Nov 2004
By bachelormachine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Much as I'm glad to have at least some of von Humboldt's very important travel writings availible, this edition is sadly emasculated.

While it does include the initial Amazonian phase of Humboldt's South American expedition, the narrative is cut short at mid-point, von Humboldt's stay in Cuba. It's inconceivable to me that the editor would have omitted all of the author's writing on his exploration of the Andes, and in particular the volcanoes of South America.

Those excluded descriptions are not only fascinating to read today, but were also what most inspired readers in von Humboldt's own day. As a matter of fact, von Humboldt's account of the Andes so inspired the 19th-century imagination, that the era's greatest landscape painters, such as Frederic Church, actually travelled to South American specifically to witness and depict the vistas which von Humboldt had recorded in print. The integral von Humboldt, in contrast with the one presented here, wanted not simply to view and record exotic cultures and climates, but far beyond this to attempt as much as possible to experience the totality of the Cosmos in microcosmic form. The closest von Humboldt came to this impossible experience was his rapid ascent of the large volcanoes of South America, insofar as in this manner he could pass, virtually, through all the Earth's various climates in a single day--an astounding and Romantic feat completely unavailable to anyone using this edition as an introduction to von Humboldt.

But none of the above can be glimpsed even remotely by the reader equipt with only the Penguin edition. Because of the premature truncation of the text, one entirely loses sight of von Humboldt's overarching project, which was not merely a geographical descripton of the Earth's surface, but rather a geodetical construction of the World as an organic Unity. Thus abbreviated, von Humboldt appears scarcely different from his Enlightenment precursors; we lose all view of him as writer who has passed through defiles of Romanticism. Not the real von Humboldt at all.

Rather than making one rash cut down the middle, the editor would have served the reader much better by extracting key episodes from von Humboldt's entire journey. As I said above, something is generally better than nothing at all. But in this particular case, not much better.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining account of 5 years in S.America 31 Oct 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Alexander von Humboldt (of the Current fame) was a famous polymath during the age of enlightenment. Like many noblemen, he used his money and leisure time in esoteric pursuits, such as collecting flora & fauna and trying to find the deeper meaning of it all.
This particular volume has been well-translated from the original - there is none of that stilted 'I haf von the Cherman translated been' style - it reads conversationally (assisted by the editing-out of long passages where Humboldt takes one of his many diversions) yet it also gives us an idea of what the man was really like. There is an extensive set of notes at the back, not just references, but elaboration of the point, which I found very illuminating.
His travels to South America span 5 years, during which time he collects and measures EVERYTHING - for at this time in history, no-one knew what was going to be pertinent or useful to science or economy. There are some amazing descriptions where he was the first educated person to see places; the problems of travel in uncharted, trackless & mountainous country make terrific reading. We may scoff at the zeal of the man, but if Hiram Bingham hadn't done the same, we wouldn't have the fantastic ruins of Macchu Picchu to study.
We also learn of the relatively tight circle of 'scientists' at that time - almost everyone knew everyone else, either via letters, Society writings or personal contact - and they knew it all; there was as yet no division between geology, biology, zoology etc - it was just 'Natural Philosophy' and one studied the lot (of course some dedicated themselves to a favourite pursuit). What is amazing to us now is the most simple things were unknown; for example, a sailor at death's door deep in the bowels of the ship, 'miraculously' recovers when taken on deck, out of the fetid miasma of the orlop - well, who wouldn't?... There are many similar incidents.
Slightly heavy going at times, because of the writing style of the period, it is nevertheless chock full of interesting snippets and amazing discoveries, giving a great insight into the mind and motives of a typical adventurous philosopher of the time. *****
24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My Opinion Thusly 3 Mar 2000
By Noah Count - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have to admit that just as I was starting to savour this thin slip of a book I found that it was, indeed, mere selections. The whole narrative is actually three volumes, over four hundred pages a volume. I was left with a craven empty feeling like a fiend for his needle. Humboldt's writing presages Thoreau and through him ponders the transcendent raptures of the natural world. Reading through the visit to the Caribs reminded me of my visits to the Grenadines where their presence is still redolent in the shadows under the almond trees. I felt that I had imbibed the same air as Humboldt.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just a glimpse of the Journey 24 May 2006
By Pablo M. Coronel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bught the book, and was expecting it eagerly.

Once it arrived I realized I had make a mistake by not realizing it was just an exceprto from the real deal.

Only a small part of the trip is described and nothing in the parts I was interested is even mentioned.

I hope the other parts will come at any time soon.
5.0 out of 5 stars “No words can evoke the feelings of a naturalist who first steps on soil outside Europe.” 22 Oct 2014
By P. Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This abridged version of Humboldt’s “Personal Narrative” gives us an enjoyable taste of the travels of the scientist and explorer in South America between 1799 and 1804.

Humboldt did not just study nature; he also enjoyed its beauty, and the book contains vivid descriptions of the sights he saw. He wrote that: “No words can evoke the feelings of a naturalist who first steps on soil outside Europe.”

This is very similar to how Charles Darwin later described his feelings on first setting foot in a Brazilian forest in “The Voyage of the Beagle”.

Humboldt’s Narrative had a big influence on Darwin when he first read it as a student at Cambridge. It contributed both to Darwin’s urge to travel and to his desire to contribute something to scientific knowledge. He even took a copy of Humboldt’s book on the Beagle with him. Later, when Darwin’s own “Voyage” book was published, Darwin was delighted when Humboldt himself praised it.

Another link between Humboldt and Darwin is the fact that both were strongly opposed to slavery. Humboldt wrote this, for example:

“Nowhere else in the world seems more appropriate to dissipate melancholy and restore peace to troubled minds than Tenerife and Madeira. These effects are due not only to the magnificent situation and to the purity of the air, but above all to the absence of slavery, which so deeply revolts us in all those places where Europeans have brought what they call their “enlightenment” and their “commerce” to their colonies.”

In his science Humboldt was a polymath whose research covered anthropology, biology, botany, geography, geology, zoology and more. But he also saw that nature was an interconnected whole and that “Everything is interrelated”. This view, that we need to see the unity of nature whilst trying to understand the parts that make up the whole, is similar to an aspect of what Marxist (but non-Stalinist) scientists such as Richard Lewontin refer to as the dialectical view of nature.

Sadly, Humboldt is not widely remembered today. But it is not surprising that his name is not as well known as Darwin’s. Humboldt contributed a great deal to science, but he did not make such a world-shattering breakthrough as Darwin did when he came up with natural selection as the mechanism for evolution.

Phil Webster.
(England)
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