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Von Humboldt, science and adventure

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Von Humboldt, science and adventure

The ingredients to fascinate are all there. The portrait of an extraordinary personality. Characterized by a strong ecological sensitivity ahead of its time and by the tendency to combine scientific interests with a dispassionate love of travel, daring explorations and reckless adventure. Alexander von Humboldt, son of the German eighteenth century, seems to have been invented by a singularly inspired author who wanted to make him the ideal protagonist of a novel capable of speaking to our time. And in particular, to our young people who show so much interest in environmental issues. But Baron Alexander is not a fictional character. He is not a Jules Verne hero. Far from it. He really lived. His existence at the time was an authentic phenomenon that aroused admiration and interest in him from his contemporaries and beyond. Von Humboldt, in fact, bewitched Goethe and, due to the great popularity that surrounded him, even aroused the jealousy of Napoleon. But he also inspired scientists of subsequent generations. Charles Darwin declared that it was the enterprising baron’s diaries that pushed him to board the legendary Beagle at the age of twenty-two. Today, in the hope that a new ecological awareness can take root and spread more and more, Alexander von Humboldt encounters a new wave of glory and returns to being a fundamental reference. It is therefore clear that he was chosen to be the protagonist of a message aimed at young people. A book, written by Volker Mehnert, magnificently illustrated by Claudia Lieb, and arrived in Italy for Donzelli thanks to the translation by Isabella Amico di Meane.

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The valuable volume is entitled «Discovering the invisible». Its 106 pages allow you to look closely at von Humboldt’s extraordinary life. A seductive journey that begins when he was still a lively boy full of questions. So he went around collecting pieces of wood, small stones, insects, and stuffed them into his pockets. They were the very first steps in the formation of a very special and visionary observation capacity that would take him far. It was von Humboldt, in fact, who understood that everything in nature lives in connection with the rest and that every human action corresponds to effects on the ecosystem and the climate which must be evaluated. The expression “network of life” he used in this regard sounds, today more than ever, particularly happy. It’s about an intersection of relationships. Of causes and effects. Of how and why.

Von Humboldt made many scientific discoveries and achievements. To tell his exceptional story as a scholar and his travels, which ranged from the South American rainforest to the Siberian steppe, a suitable pen was certainly needed. Volker Mehnert turned out to be ideal. In some ways he could even be called a kindred spirit to the talented baron. Like him, Mehnert also traveled extensively. And he has written a lot about travel in articles and books. His words find their counterpart and completion in Lieb’s images. The illustrator trained in communication design in Münster and at the Institute of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. To understand how skilled she was in capturing von Humboldt’s soul, just look at the cover of the book. It gives a portrait of a young man with a distinguished and gentle appearance. Disheveled just enough to convey its dynamic nature. In his eyes, beyond the friendly affability and a certain streak of irony, the brilliant intelligence that guided him shines through. His refined clothing contrasts only in appearance with the other graphic elements. We see shiny leaves of exotic forests, spikes of red flowers, a darting hummingbird, two splendid butterflies, a perplexed monkey. Different worlds that meet in the light of knowledge.

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