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

Front Cover
Viking, 2006 - Science - 496 pages
0 Reviews
A masterly intellectual history of the impact of 19th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt on American culture and science

The naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769¬–1859) achieved unparalleled fame in his own time. Today, his enormous legacy to American thought is virtually unknown. In The Humboldt Current, Aaron Sachs seeks to reverse this obscurity by tracing Humboldt¬'s pervasive influence on American history, specifically looking at the lives and careers of four explorers: J. N. Reynolds, the founder of the 1838¬–1842 U.S. Exploring Expedition; Clarence King, the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey; George Wallace Melville, chief engineer on the disastrous 1879 Jeannette expedition to the North Pole; and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. In Sachs¬'s view, all four of these men were alienated Romantics who used Humboldt¬'s notion of ¬“unity in diversity¬” as a way of critiquing their increasingly industrialized society. Moreover, as Sachs argues, their examples laid the groundwork for an ecological tradition even more radical than the one that has come down to us today. Sachs¬'s treatment of Humboldt¬'s legacy also includes discussions of the writers and artists most in his debt: Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, Poe, and Frederic Church. Reminiscent of Louis Menand¬'s bestselling The Metaphysical Club, The Humboldt Current is a colorful, superbly written and carefully researched work that offers a fundamental reinterpretation of nineteenth century American history.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

THE HUMBOLDT CURRENT: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Erudite yet highly accessible biography of the Prussian explorer and naturalist who altered the 19th century's intellectual climate and became the godfather of the American environmental movement ... Read full review

The Humboldt current: nineteenth-century exploration and the roots of American environmentalism

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In his first book, Sachs (history & American studies, Cornell Univ.) surveys 19th-century American environmentalism by examining the life and work of naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt ... Read full review


Personal Narrative of a Journey Radical Romanticism
Cosmos Unification Ecology

5 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2006)

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

Bibliographic information