Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), once described as the 'last universal scholar in the field of the natural sciences,' was one of the most extraordinary men of his time. Naturalist, botanist, zoologist, author, cartographer, artist and sociologist - but a few of the many talents possessed by this great scientific adventurer, whose influence is apparent throughout the world today. Despite an unpromising Prussian childhood and a tortured personal life, his single-mindedness and rare combination of talents drove him to become a scientific adventurer, spurring his five-year, six-thousand-mile scientific exploration of South America. During this remarkable trip, he explored the courses of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers, mapping their tributaries and discovering and cataloguing many new species of plant and animal. He discovered electric eels in 1800, receiving massive shocks in the process. He mapped vast tracts of South America - many areas of which are named after him to this day - discovered the anti-malarial value of quinine, the worth of guano as fertiliser, and the importance of the ocean currents. He studied electricity, invented the study of atmospherics and made great advances in the fields of astronomy, geology and biology. The renaissance man of eighteenth century science, Humboldt was, with the exception of Napoleon, probably the most famous man in Europe at the time, and inspired the young Charles Darwin on his own fateful journeys of discovery. Later in this extraordinary life, he founded the great Humboldt University in Berlin and wrote the legendary multi-volume Cosmos, in which he ambitiously attempted to unify all the fields of science. In "Humboldt and the Cosmos", world-renowned historian, Douglas Botting, looks at the man, what drove him, the age he lived in, and literally follows his astonishing journeys of discovery along the Casiquiare canal and the Upper Orinoco of Venezuela, in an attempt to do justice to Humboldt's range of achievements and their importance to the world today. Reissued in paperback, this is the classic biography of one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of science and exploration. It is an extraordinary adventure story written by a world-renowned historian.
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Douglas Botting has been a soldier, explorer, traveller, writer, photographer and filmmaker. He has written a number of studies of World War II and its aftermath in Germany, among which is the enduring work Nazi Gold (with Ian Sayer). Among his most recent books are Gerald Durrell: The Authorised Biography (2000) and Hitler and Women (2004)