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Reviews by Nergal

Reise in die Aequinoctial-Gegenden des neuen Continents. Band 1.

by Alexander von Humboldt

(I am a German native speaker) -Humboldts late work intended for the scientific interested German citizen, this work is a mixture of scientific theories, travel report, a bit of odd historical remarks, many many numbers (cyanometer to measure how 'blue' the heaven).

It is written in a very beautiful, oldfashioned German in a time between the 1st and 2nd German Empire. the described travel was than about half a century before.

Many words are written in a manner that would drive German teachers mad, but it is always perfect understandable, if one knows, that at that time many foreign words were not yet assimilated. Sometimes it is for the modern German reader a cause for amusement :). I personally love it! But that is individual.

It is sometimes tricky to differentiate between the scientific status quo of the time of the journey and that of the publication in this way. Humboldt looks back upon his own life and this travel as a scientist with an enormous reputation, it is betimes not easy to filter the memories from the young man travelling the world with the awe and spirit of looking at so many unknown natural phenomena through perspective of the old author who knew so much always better ;).

The first volume decribes the very much drawbacks (the political situation is around the year 1800 extremely complicated in Europe) which finally let to the journey into the south-american spanish colonies.

The trip over the Atlantic to the Canarian Islands, a short expedition to the Pic (the main volcano) and finally the main part: the arrival in the new worlds colonies.

Where he resides in a little spanish coast town, and one many weeks long expedition into the coastnear highlands and to native Indian tribes and the Catholic missions. The first volume ends with the return of this lengthy journey through the hinterland.

Humboldt always describes social, political, moral, economical, and scientific (botanic, zoologic, geological and geographical, chemical, physical, optical, and astronomical) aspects of places, situations, and people. Though this seems like a lot of aspects at which Humboldt was interested and made his observations it is that what made him one of the great among the sceintific world.
Sometimes one becomes a bit wary when many numbers in oldfashioned units are thrown into the text, but they are never without explanation or context.

A lot of scientific models are explained and tested with the observations made, so this is a rich source of the wildlife and historicosocial situation in the colonies.

Humboldts report is not so much an adventure travel report, he loved his instruments way to much to do something riskful. You need to be interested in Geography in general at least, because this is Humboldts main topic. His description of landscapes is often hidden behind numbers and too much scientific approach.

I had the PDF-version and I do not know if there is any free version with maps, images, tables availbale, which would the improve the reading experience exceedingly.

Reviewed on 2008.05.29

Forty-one years in India

by Frederick Sleigh Roberts

First of all, this is not a novel or fiction. The author describes his career from his arrival in India as a subaltern military officer to the chief of the Royal British army in India. During the 41 years the author describes, he always shares his own opinion (of coure from a point of view as a chief commander with a lot of experience, so that sometimes his very early ideas as a young officer seem at first a bit exaggerated) to any affair of government and military he comes into touch with. Though this is sometimes a bit lengthy it nonetheless helps to keep track of the general history in a detail one will never get through a historical overview of British colonization of India.

The parts where the author is involved into the great 'milestones' of history on the other hand is sometimes extremely thrilling. From the great Mutiny to the Afghan Wars (very interesting to understand what is happening since then in this wretched country). He has a very legible style, not too much 'honour and glory' though not without this very charme of British officers one is used to from literature, history, and movies.

For anyone who wants to understand the history of the Middle East to India, this is an entertaining but (I'm convinced mostly) true autobiography.

Topics from high politics and state affairs mingled with the private sorrows of an colonial officer away from his fatherland.

Reviewed on 2008.05.15

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