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Alexander von Humboldt and his mainwork Cosmos

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Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was always considered as one of the last universal scholars. He basically spent his life traveling, visiting exotic countries and describing nature in the most detailed way.
Accumulating lots of information from his observations he had the idea of a work “embracing a summary of physical knowledge, as connected with a delineation of the material universe” decades before he finally started writing it.
Already at the age of 27 he wrote in a letter to Marc Auguste Pictet: "Je concus l'idée d'une physique du monde."
- so Humboldt's intention was it to capture every great idea, every phenomenon to be seen in nature - just like the subtitle tells: A physical description of the universe. He once pointed it out in a letter to Varnhagen von Ense in 1834 stating that the Cosmos is supposed to sum up everything between heaven and earth, everything ever created.

A keen attempt, which ended up as a groundbreaking milestone, a life’s summary and a conservation of encyclopedic knowledge. Although he left the fifth volume unfinished the Cosmos certainly crowned Humboldt's life and work.

On the occasion of his 235th birthday there was a kind of revival of the person Alexander von Humboldt. Germany's Federal President Horst Köhler said about him: "Like no one else, Alexander von Humboldt stands for what's best in Germany, for our strengths and abilities. We could really need someone like him in Germany 2004."
The german writer Hans Markus Enzensberger put it even worse: "Germany is dependent on Alexander von Humboldt in order to master the challenges of 21st century." So it seems that today the visionary Humboldt is more appreciated and needed than ever before in Germany.

As one might suppose the Cosmos is with approximately thousand pages way too expansive to be read online, so we’ll just provide a book preview combined with a full text search.
If one considers to fully read Humboldt’s Cosmos, the best way in doing so would possibly be to buy it;
- but: Reading the book itself may not be as important as the spirit it radiates, the spirit of the whole world in one book, Europe's greatest explorer at his utmost productivity and passion banning his life on paper.
That might be the reason why dealing with Humboldt is so fascinating even if you're not interested in all his theories, observations and biology. It's his personality that shines through his work and draws people to it till present day.

The only readable work online is a collection of lectures Humboldt gave at the University of Berlin, unfortunately only available in German. Those lectures - the so called Cosmos lectures - he gave 1827-28 and immediately caused enormous attention in Berlin's society. Everyone wanted to hear what Humboldt had to tell about his journeys to foreign countries not known to the common population of the nineteenth century.

Book previews of Cosmos with full text search included:

-> Cosmos Vol. 1 at Google Books

-> Cosmos Vol. 1 as a Flipbook (

-> the Cosmos Lectures at the Project Gutenberg (ger.)

  >> Special Feature "EARTH": Alexander v. Humboldt and his mainwork Cosmos