The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism

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9780143111924: The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism

A masterly and beautifully written account of the impact of Alexander von Humboldt on nineteenth-century American history and culture

The naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769?1859) achieved unparalleled fame in his own time. Today, however, he and his enormous legacy to American thought are virtually unknown. In The Humboldt Current, Aaron Sachs traces Humboldt?s pervasive influence on American history through examining the work of four explorers?J. N. Reynolds, Clarence King, George Wallace, and John Muir?who embraced Humboldt?s idea of a ?chain of connection? uniting all peoples and all environments. A skillful blend of narrative and interpretation that also discusses Humboldt?s influence on Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, and Poe, The Humboldt Current offers a colorful, passionate, and superbly written reinterpretation of nineteenth-century American history.

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About the Author:

Aaron Sachs is a professor of history and American studies at Cornell University and an award-winning environmental journalist. This is his first book.

From Publishers Weekly:

American history of the 19th century is dominated by the Civil War, the expansion to the Pacific and the push to industrialization, but it is worth recalling the prominent interest in natural history in the U.S., a movement of which the tremendously popular Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was more or less the first practitioner. Arguably the Einstein of his day in terms of fame, accomplishment and influence, the explorer and author of the magisterial work Cosmos had a huge impact on American environmentalism. This ambitious subject is admirably tackled in this complexly argued book by Sachs, an environmental journalist and history professor at Cornell. Sachs cannily divides the book into the four points of the compass, addressing East (Europe's influence), South (excursions to Antarctica), West (exploring the frontier) and North (failed attempts to conquer the North Pole). The author chooses four explorer-naturalists—J.N. Reynolds, Clarence King, George Wallace Melville and John Muir—to represent the various tributaries of Humboldt's considerable influence. In this timely read, he even documents the naturalist impulse in writers such as Thoreau, Whitman and, surprisingly, Poe. (Aug.)
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