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review 2017-08-08 18:45
The Lost City of the Monkey God
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story - Douglas Preston,Bill Mumy

 

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story is not my normal cuppa, but came to me highly recommended. I'm glad that I reserved the audio at my library.

 

The story was enjoyable and educational, but I was slightly disappointed at the time spent actually exploring. The beginning of the book goes into previous expeditions to areas near this city and the problems faced due to the fact that Honduras can be a very dangerous country. Not only due to the insects, snakes and other poisonous creatures, but also because of drug cartels.

 

The brief portion that involved the actual exploration was fascinating. Imagine going into an area completely untouched by mankind in 500 hundred years. How exciting! However, the actuality of exploring such an area means exposing oneself to thousands of dangers from extremely deep mud, insects of all kinds, snakes and even jaguars, to name just a few.

 

There was another brief section talking about the problems with other archaeologists and academia throwing shade on this expedition, some of them doing so with no REAL knowledge of what went on, how LIDAR worked and what was found.

 

Lastly, and the part I found most interesting, was what happened to many of the explorers after they got home and that is: Leishmaniasis. OMG. This is a disease, (actually many diseases and symptoms, grouped under one name), which is carried by tiny sand flies. The havoc this disease can wreak is almost unbelievable. This led to another section of the book which spoke about new world diseases and how they affected the Americas. There is talk of how some of the early civilizations disappeared and how that may have been caused by parasites and diseases. I found all of this fascinating but extremely scary. Most especially when it was mentioned that cases of Leish have now been found in Texas and the speculation about how that is because sand flies are moving northward due to climate change.

 

What I found most surprising is that many of the explorers that were diagnosed and treated for Leish, jumped at the chance to go back to the site. I can only assume that they were CRAZY!

 

I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot about Honduras and its history. I recommend The Lost City of the Monkey God to anyone interested in learning more about Honduras, the city and the history of the world, in general.

 

*I checked out this audio from my local library. Libraries RULE!*

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review 2017-07-29 18:31
Meh.
Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest Tea - Jeff Koehler

Tea is a major drink of choice for me and I enjoy reading up on it. I was intrigued by this book cover that says Darjeeling is the world's greatest tea. I would need more information to see what supports this premise.

 

Author Koehler takes us through the origins of Darjeeling and tea, from the discovery of tea, how tea is harvested, the issues facing the industry, the history and the role tea has played in it and more. Some of it is quite fascinating: from the role tea played in the Opium Wars to how tea is used in trade between India and Russia, Iran, etc. This was probably the most interesting parts of the book for me as I never quite realized *how* important a commodity tea has been.

 

But otherwise, the book is an incredible mishmash. Bouncing between the history to how tea is harvested to how it can be prepared, etc. I found the book was very uneven. I'm genuinely shocked at the number of reviews that found the author's writing "engaging". It's clear the author is very passionate about the topic, but that did not translate well to the page.

 

And as other reviewers note, the book is written from a Western POV. The author says "Darjeeling's tea story is romantic." on page 7 of my hardcover copy. Romantic...for whom? The book flap itself calls tea/the tea industry in India came to symbolize British imperial rule. Along with the role it played in the Opium Wars, I just couldn't agree. Sometimes the author goes off and waxes poetic about his subject and it can get a bit wearing. 

 

Still, there were definitely parts of the book that were interesting and I did learn more. But I am surprised the book is rated so highly. I got it as a bargain book but recommend the library or skipping it instead.

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review 2017-07-28 01:33
Long but pertinent
An Economic History of the World since 1400 - Donald J. Harreld

It was a long haul but really not that difficult to follow and since he spends a lot of time talking about the world economy in the 20th and 21st centuries actually quite helpful in helping me understand the world I live in--just don't ask me to recap anything that I have just listened to!

 

The lecturer is well-spoken and knowledgeable, so it isn't at all hard to sit through all 48 lectures. Some of the lecturers like to dazzle you with their brilliance and flaunt their immense working vocabularies; Herreid has parked his ego at the door and in doing so, is able to present a huge among of information in a relatively short amount of time, clearly and concisely--and without boring you to death.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-17 11:52
THE INVENTION of NATURE BY ANDREA WULF
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

TITLE:  The Invention of Nature:  Alexander von Humboldt's New World

 

AUTHOR:   Andrea Wulf

 

Publisher:  Knopf

 

Format:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-385-35067-9

 

 

BOOK REVIEW

 

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is not  a complete or in-depth biography, but rather a journey to discover the forgotten life (and far reaching influence) of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary Prussian naturalist and explorer whose ideas changed the way we perceive the natural world, and in the process created modern environmentalism. 

 

In this book, Wulf traces the threads that connect us to this extraordinary man, showing how Humboldt influenced many of the greatest artists, thinkers and scientists of his day.  However, today he is almost forgotten outside academia (due to politics and changing fashions), despite his ideas still shaping out thinking.  Ecologists, environmentalists and nature writers rely on Humboldt's vision, although most do so unknowingly.  It is the author's stated objective to "rediscover Humboldt, and to restore him to his rightful place in the pantheon of nature and science" and to "understand why we think as we do today about the natural world".    In my opinion, Andrea Wulf successfully shows the many fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.

 

Alexander von Humboldt was one of the founders of modern biology and ecology, and had a direct effect on scientists and political leaders.  Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists, politicians and poets such as Charles Darwin, Wordsworth, Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, John Muir and Thoreau.  The author successfully integrates Humboldt's life and activities into the political and social scene so we can get a picture of how important Humboldt was, and still is.  Many people considered him the most famous scientist of his age.

 

Humboldt was a hands-on scientist.  His expeditions of discovery led him through Europe, Latin America and eventually Siberia.  He strongly desired to see the Himalaya, but the East India Company didn't want to co-operate for fear that he would write unflattering comments about their form of governance.

 

Humboldt also continued to assist young scientists, artists and explorers throughout his life, often helping them financially despite his own debt. 

 

Alexander von Humboldt led a colourful and adventurous life, but this book also shows us why Humboldt is so important:

- he is the founding father of environmentalists, ecologists and nature writers.

- he made science accessible and popular - everybody learned from him.

- he believed that education was the foundation of a free and happy society.

- his interdisciplinary approach to science and nature is more relevant than ever as scientists are trying to understand man's effect on the world.

- his beliefs in the free exchange of information, in uniting scientists and in fostering communication across disciplines, are the pillars of science today.

- his concept of nature as one of global patterns underpins our thinking today.

- his insights that social, economic and political issues are closely connected to environmental problems remain topical today.

- he wrote about the abolition of slavery and the disastrous consequences of reckless colonialism.

 - he believed that knowledge had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everbody.

- he invented isotherms (the lines of temperature and pressure on weather maps).

- he discovered the magnetic equator.

- he developed the idea of vegetation and climate zones.

- his quantitative work on  botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography.

-  he was one of the first people to propose that South America and Africa were once joined.

- he was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change, based on observations made during his travels.

- he contributed to geology through his study of mountains and volcanoes.

- he was a significant contributor to cartography by creating maps of little-explored regions.

- his advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

- he revolutionized the way we see the natural world.

- he developed the web of life (the concept of nature as a chain of causes and effects).

- he was the first scientist to talk about human-induced environmental degradation.

- he was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate:  the tree's ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect.

- he warned that the agricultural techniques of his day could have devastating consequences.

- he discovered the idea of a keystone species (a species that is essential for an ecosystem to function) almost 200 years before the concept was named.

- he confirmed that the Casiquiare was a natural waterway between the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, which is a tributary of the Amazon, and made a detailed map.

- he considered the replacement of food crops with cash crops to be a recipe for dependency and injustice.  He felt that monoculture and cash crops did not create a happy society, and that subsistence farming, based on edible crops and variety, was a better alternative.

 

I found the chapters that describe Humboldt's expeditions to be fascinating - filled with hazards, wild animals, pests, injuries, epidemics, new discoveries and ideas.  The chapters that discuss his busy social and work life were also interesting.  However, I wish the author had spend more page space on his expeditions and discoveries, and less on the biographies of the people he influenced, especially the last few chapters which were somewhat long-winded.  What I found rather refreshing was the lack of author speculation and interjection of her own theories - the narrative sticks to what is known.  The author also manages to convey Humboldt's enthusiasm and energy so that the reader feels breathless just reading about all his activities.

 

This biographical search for the invention of nature and the man who "invented" it, provides a great deal of food for thought, woven around the life of a great (and overly energetic) scientist.  This was an enjoyable and informative reading experience.

 

 

 

NOTE:  This book includes three clear, easy to read maps that were particularly useful in following Humboldt's Journeys, and a large number of black and white, as well as colour illustrations were also included in the book.  In addition, the author included an extensive section of notes, sources and bibliography, an index and a note on Humboldt's publications.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-17 09:39
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf (PROGRESS UPDATE)
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

PART 5:  NEW WORLDS: EVOLVING IDEAS

 

In Chapter 20 we learn how Europe has erupted into civil unrest and how Humboldt's balancing act between his liberal political views and his court duties were getting more difficult.  We also learn that Humboldt continued to assist young scientist, artists and explorers, often helping them financially despite his own debt.  In one way or another, he ruled over the destinies of scientists across the world.

 

"Since he had no family of his own, these young men were like his children."

 

In this chapter, Bonpland makes a re-appearance.  It's nice to finally find out how his story continues.

 

Despite his age and busy social and work schedule, Humboldt remained interested in everything new, especially the possibilities of technology.  Many considered the man to be the most famous scientist of his age.

 

Then, soon after dispatching the 5th volume of his book Cosmos, Humboldt collapses, and a few days later he dies, at age 89. 

 

"For many, Humboldt was, as the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV had said, simply 'the greatest man since the Deluge'."

 

Humboldt's work shaped two generations of scientists, artists, writers and poets.  The remainder of the section of the book is taken up with showing how Humboldt's ideas about nature, and his observations of anthropogenic ecological degradation influenced a selection of nature writers, artists and scientists - George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel, John Muir.  These people influenced our current view (and legislation) of the preservation, protection and use of nature as a resource. 

 

I liked how the author dealt with Humboldt's death and the global response to this.  This was a sad occasion and she manages to make the reader feel as if they have lost someone important.  However, I felt that the author's choice of influential nature people was rather limited and these chapters to be rather flowery in terms of language.  I would rather have read more about Humboldt than these fellows.

 

 

 

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