100 books like Humboldt and the Cosmos

By Douglas Botting,

Here are 100 books that Humboldt and the Cosmos fans have personally recommended if you like Humboldt and the Cosmos. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Heyday of Natural History, 1820-1870

Michael Layland Author Of In Nature's Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island

From my list on the history of natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In Nature’s Realm is my third book on the theme of exploration of Vancouver Island, my home for the past thirty years, and my first focussed on the history of natural history. In it, I call upon decades of experience in mapping hitherto scarcely known parts of the world, combined with a keen fascination with the fauna and flora of the many places where I have lived and worked. I have marvelled at the work of the exploring naturalists and am fascinated with their personal histories. I find it enthralling how they each added to the sum of human knowledge of the wonders of the natural world, now so sadly threatened.

Michael's book list on the history of natural history

Michael Layland Why did Michael love this book?

I found this delightful, well-written account of great interest and reference. It covers the widespread passion for all aspects of natural history during the Victorian era, how the collectors of ferns, seashells, birds’ eggs, and skins, butterflies, beetles, orchids, and all manner of curiosities from the natural world, pursued their hobbies. This general acceptance by society led to the formation of clubs, articles, and even specialist journals and popular lectures by amateurs and scientists.

Beautifully illustrated, this book, even though constrained in its timeframe, provides a wonderful introduction to the topic. Since I cover many of the people and motives included here, I much enjoyed another writer’s perspective on them.

By Lynn Barber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heyday of Natural History, 1820-1870 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First American Edition. "Generously illustrated and impeccably researched, "The Heyday of Natural History" is a highly informative look at a fascinating slice of Victorian culture and scientific history, and the scholars of the Victorian period will find it illuminating. . .Lynn Barber writes primarily for the general reader, and no one can fail to enjoy her witty style, and the rich gallery of eccentrics she describes."


Book cover of Darwin and the Beagle

Michael Layland Author Of In Nature's Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island

From my list on the history of natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In Nature’s Realm is my third book on the theme of exploration of Vancouver Island, my home for the past thirty years, and my first focussed on the history of natural history. In it, I call upon decades of experience in mapping hitherto scarcely known parts of the world, combined with a keen fascination with the fauna and flora of the many places where I have lived and worked. I have marvelled at the work of the exploring naturalists and am fascinated with their personal histories. I find it enthralling how they each added to the sum of human knowledge of the wonders of the natural world, now so sadly threatened.

Michael's book list on the history of natural history

Michael Layland Why did Michael love this book?

A superbly written account of, perhaps, the most famous British naturalist-explorer, Charles Darwin, on his great voyage aboard HMS Beagle to Patagonia and the Galápagos in 1831-6. The author also covers the furious aftermath, the debate resulting from Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) findings and contentious, to some seemingly blasphemous, theory on the origin of species. Profusely illustrated in colour with contemporary material. I have read and long admired several of Moorhead’s books and particularly enjoyed this one as it deals with a personal hero of mine.

By Alan Moorehead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin and the Beagle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of Darwin's five-year expedition, as a naturalist on board HMS Beagle, illustrated from contemporary sources.


Book cover of More Than Birds: Adventurous Lives of North American Naturalists

Michael Layland Author Of In Nature's Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island

From my list on the history of natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In Nature’s Realm is my third book on the theme of exploration of Vancouver Island, my home for the past thirty years, and my first focussed on the history of natural history. In it, I call upon decades of experience in mapping hitherto scarcely known parts of the world, combined with a keen fascination with the fauna and flora of the many places where I have lived and worked. I have marvelled at the work of the exploring naturalists and am fascinated with their personal histories. I find it enthralling how they each added to the sum of human knowledge of the wonders of the natural world, now so sadly threatened.

Michael's book list on the history of natural history

Michael Layland Why did Michael love this book?

Here is an excellent introduction to the “birders,” those amateurs, professional collectors, scientists, and artists—men and women—who have investigated ornithology in North America. The author, a Canadian, covers 22 fellow enthusiasts from Wilson and Audubon through Peterson, Bateman, and Sibley. She relates how each of her subjects studied and built upon the work of their predecessors to construct what we know today. 

Her book is well-constructed, easy to follow, and delightful to read. There are a few monochrome illustrations, portraits, and maps. I discovered this fine book during my research for my most recent book, and much admired the writing style and structural plan.

By Val Shushkewich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked More Than Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once people encounter the natural world and become aware of its intricacy, fragility, beauty, and significance, they will recognize the need for conservation.

The fascinating development of natural history studies in North America is portrayed through the life stories of 22 naturalists. The 19th century saw early North American naturalists such as Alexander Wilson, the "Father of American Ornithology," John James Audubon, and Thomas Nuttall describing and illustrating the spectacular flora and fauna they found in the New World.

Scientists of the Smithsonian Institution and the Canadian Museum of Nature worked feverishly to describe and catalogue the species that exist…


Book cover of Flower Hunters

Michael Layland Author Of In Nature's Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island

From my list on the history of natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In Nature’s Realm is my third book on the theme of exploration of Vancouver Island, my home for the past thirty years, and my first focussed on the history of natural history. In it, I call upon decades of experience in mapping hitherto scarcely known parts of the world, combined with a keen fascination with the fauna and flora of the many places where I have lived and worked. I have marvelled at the work of the exploring naturalists and am fascinated with their personal histories. I find it enthralling how they each added to the sum of human knowledge of the wonders of the natural world, now so sadly threatened.

Michael's book list on the history of natural history

Michael Layland Why did Michael love this book?

This fine book was another discovery of mine as I studied the literature on aspects of the history of natural history for my own book in this genre. Although written by two academics, this book is easy to read by a generally educated public. It covers what is to me, the engrossing topic of the early botanical collectors and illustrators, both men and women. The authors recount the lives of eleven subjects from Linnaeus through Banks, Douglas, Spruce, and Hooker, and how they, together, founded the science of botany by roaming the world in search of new species. There are 32 well-chosen illustrations, in colour and monochrome.

By Mary Gribbin, John Gribbin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flower Hunters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The flower hunters were intrepid explorers - remarkable, eccentric men and women who scoured the world in search of extraordinary plants from the middle of the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, and helped establish the new science of botany. For these adventurers, the search for new, undiscovered plant specimens was something worth risking - and often losing - their lives for. From the Douglas-fir and the monkey puzzle tree, to exotic orchids and azaleas, many of the plants that are now so familiar to us were found in distant regions of the globe, often in wild and…


Book cover of Measuring the World

Karl Sigmund Author Of The Waltz of Reason: The Entanglement of Mathematics and Philosophy

From my list on the poetic side of science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life as a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, faithful to my first boyish infatuation. Yet, I always had an eye for the dangerous charms of philosophy. In the end, I succumbed and wrote The Waltz of Reason, convinced that the countless interactions of mathematics and philosophy provide the greatest adventure stories of reason, the scientific sagas which will remain as the most enduring and the most romantic account of humanity’s progress.   

Karl's book list on the poetic side of science

Karl Sigmund Why did Karl love this book?

This book is a novel, unabashedly. It describes the lives of our old friend Humboldt and the math genius Karl Friedrich Gauss, culminating in their 1828 encounter in Berlin.

This meeting is a well-documented fact. Not everything else is. Daniel Kehlmann takes his liberties with history. He even boasts of his leger-de-main, like Alexandre Dumas.

The overall outcome is splendidly funny and uncannily wise. The cap-stone irony is that the most implausible episodes of the book are not the ones that the author invented.    


By Daniel Kehlmann,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Measuring the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Measuring the World recreates the parallel but contrasting lives of two geniuses of the German Enlightenment - the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss. Towards the end of the 18th century, these two brilliant young Germans set out to measure the world.

Humboldt, a Prussian aristocrat schooled for greatness, negotiates savannah and jungle, climbs the highest mountain then known to man, counts head lice on the heads of the natives, and explores every hole in the ground.

Gauss, a man born in poverty who will be recognised as the greatest mathematician since…


Book cover of Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent

Tristan Gooley Author Of The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs: Use Outdoor Clues to Find Your Way, Predict the Weather, Locate Water, Track Animals--And Other Forgotten Skil

From my list on for intelligent travellers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author and natural navigator. I set up my natural navigation school in 2008 and am the author of award-winning and internationally bestselling books, including The Natural Navigator (2010) The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs (2014), How to Read Water (2016), and The Secret World of Weather (2021), some of the world’s only books covering natural navigation. I have spent decades hunting for clues and signs in nature, across the globe, which may be why I am sometimes nicknamed: “The Sherlock Holmes of Nature”.

Tristan's book list on for intelligent travellers

Tristan Gooley Why did Tristan love this book?

Humboldt is the Godfather of so many fascinating areas of natural history. His mind unravels mysteries for breakfast. The book is a great travel story in its own right, but this tale envelopes countless examples of groundbreaking discovery. 

Personally, I find his work inspiring because he excelled at revealing how nature and place reflect each other. The plants and animals we encounter change with latitude, altitude, and a dozen other variables. This is the science that allows us to start making maps from plants and animals. We are all indebted to Humboldt and I feel it strongly. 

By Alexander von Humboldt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the greatest nineteenth-century scientist-explorers, Alexander von Humboldt traversed the tropical Spanish Americas between 1799 and 1804. By the time of his death in 1859, he had won international fame for his scientific discoveries, his observations of Native American peoples and his detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the 'new continent'. The first to draw and speculate on Aztec art, to observe reverse polarity in magnetism and to discover why America is called America, his writings profoundly influenced the course of Victorian culture, causing Darwin to reflect: 'He alone gives any notion of the feelings which are…


Book cover of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Maxim Samson Author Of Invisible Lines: Boundaries and Belts That Define the World

From my list on redefining your understanding of geography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Geography professor at DePaul University with a long-standing obsession with the world, comparing puddle shapes to countries as a small child and subsequently initiating map and flag collections that I cultivate to this day. Having lived in different parts of the UK and the USA, as well as being fortunate enough to travel further afield, I’ve relished the opportunity to explore widely and chat with the people who know their places best. I love books that alter how I look at the planet, and I am particularly intrigued by the subtle ways in which people have shaped our world—and our perceptions of it—both intentionally and inadvertently.

Maxim's book list on redefining your understanding of geography

Maxim Samson Why did Maxim love this book?

Even prior to reading this book, I casually considered Alexander von Humboldt to be one of my geographical heroes, a workaholic as addicted to adventure as he was obsessed with advancing our understanding of the planet.

However, Wulf’s book opened my eyes not only to the sheer extent of his contributions to how we view the world, from human-induced climate change to the development of increasingly accurate and informative maps and diagrams but also to his cultural and political significance, influencing politicians and inspiring poets to continue fashioning and representing the planet as they see fit.

In placing the founder of ecology and modern environmentalism centre-stage, this engaging biography extols Humboldt’s revolutionary understanding of how the natural and human worlds are interconnected and helps us appreciate how our relationship with the planet can be scientific and emotional simultaneously. 

By Andrea Wulf,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Invention of Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD

WINNER OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE 2016

'A thrilling adventure story' Bill Bryson

'Dazzling' Literary Review

'Brilliant' Sunday Express

'Extraordinary and gripping' New Scientist

'A superb biography' The Economist

'An exhilarating armchair voyage' GILES MILTON, Mail on Sunday

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist - more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.

His colourful adventures read…


Book cover of The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

Jack Nisbet Author Of The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

From my list on the interwoven lifeways of plants and people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have studied the intersection of human and natural history as an enthusiast, newspaper columnist, teacher, museum curator, and author. I strongly believe in the value of local knowledge, which has led me to work with and learn from several Plateau tribal communities. I use primary documents, including field journals, maps, artwork, oral histories, and the landscape itself as my building blocks. If I can arrive at a confluence of rivers on the same day of the year as some early white visitors and search for the living things that they wrote about during their stay, then I have something that I can compare directly with tribal oral histories. 

Jack's book list on the interwoven lifeways of plants and people

Jack Nisbet Why did Jack love this book?

I love comics of all kinds, so found it impossible to resist Andrea Wulf’s idea of adapting her popular biography of ecological pioneer Von Humboldt to the graphic form. Illustrator Lillian Melcher combines her comic chops and inventive design sense with Von Humboldt’s own drawings, maps, and specimen papers to create a book that truly enhances Wulf’s scholarly investigations. Plus it’s so much fun. 

By Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invention of Nature, comes a breathtakingly illustrated and brilliantly evocative recounting of Alexander Von Humboldt's five year expedition in South America.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, but his most revolutionary idea was a radical vision of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. His theories and ideas were profoundly influenced by a…


Book cover of The Snow Leopard

Sharon Pincott Author Of Elephant Dawn: The Inspirational Story of Thirteen Years Living With Elephants in the African Wilderness

From my list on consider taking more risks and do something completely different with your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I found myself giving up a high-flying life and successful IT career at age 38 to live my dream in the African bush, getting to know wild elephant families intimately and ultimately helping to save them from the actions of corrupt officials, unethical sport-hunters, poachers, and land claimants. It took plenty of tenacity and endurance to make a difference. Books have long been an important influence in my life, as they are for so many. I want to share a different insight and inspire you to ponder which books changed you. Here are five books that helped shape my life, and the thought-provoking reasons why.

Sharon's book list on consider taking more risks and do something completely different with your life

Sharon Pincott Why did Sharon love this book?

Peter wrote about his long trek into the Himalayas in the company of a biologist who went in search of the elusive snow leopard. I was awed by this concept, but more so, for Peter, it was a spiritual journey that memorably reflects on his own life and the recent death of his wife.

There’s such vivid beauty and inspirational honesty in his words. It evoked in me a longing for wild places with no expectations attached. 

By Peter Matthiessen,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Snow Leopard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A beautiful book, and worthy of the mountains he is among' Paul Theroux

'A delight' i Paper

This is the account of a journey to the dazzling Tibetan plateau of Dolpo in the high Himalayas. In 1973 Matthiessen made the 250-mile trek to Dolpo, as part of an expedition to study wild blue sheep. It was an arduous, sometimes dangerous, physical endeavour: exertion, blisters, blizzards, endless negotiations with sherpas, quaking cold. But it was also a 'journey of the heart' - amongst the beauty and indifference of the mountains Matthiessen was searching for solace. He was also searching for a…


Book cover of The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology

Melissa Washburn Author Of Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects: Step-By-Step Realistic Line Drawing - A Sourcebook for Aspiring Artists and Designers

From my list on natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and spent many weekends hiking, camping, and fishing with my parents. Identifying and understanding the plants and animals around me was always interesting, and this love of nature has stayed with me as an adult. I now live near Lake Michigan and am an avid hiker, birdwatcher, and an Indiana Master Naturalist. I take endless inspiration from the natural world in my illustration work and believe that co-existing with, respecting, and preserving the natural world is central not just to the integrity of our planet, but to our very humanity.

Melissa's book list on natural history

Melissa Washburn Why did Melissa love this book?

This book is a fascinating look at ornithology through the ages, from mythology and legend to the evolution of our scientific understanding of birds today. It includes beautiful illustrations from medieval monks to early naturalists through the 20th century. Even the most casual birdwatcher will learn something fascinating from this book; I read it slowly, digesting a section at a time, and it’s one I’m sure I’ll return to again and again.

By Tim Birkhead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom of Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For thousands of years people have been fascinated by birds, and today that fascination is still growing. In 2007 bird-watching is one of the most popular pastimes, not just in Britain, but throughout the world, and the range of interest runs from the specialist to the beginner.

In The Wisdom of Birds, Birkhead takes the reader on a journey that not only tells us about the extraordinary lives of birds - from conception and egg, through territory and song, to migration and fully fledged breeder - but also shows how, over centuries, we have overcome superstition and untested 'truths' to…


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