The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf (John Murray, £25). Darwin pronounced him the greatest scientific traveller who ever lived, but the brilliant German Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) left no groundbreaking theory or world-changing book. Wulf sets out to restore his diminished reputation, and has given us the most complete portrait of one of the world’s most complete naturalists.
Derek Ratcliffe occupied a smaller stage but was no less committed to a panoramic understanding of British nature. Writer, scientist, explorer, mountaineer, photographer and unremitting champion of the wild, Ratcliffe had a breadth and talent that is richly celebrated in Nature’s Conscience: The Life and Legacy of Derek Ratcliffe, edited by Des Thomson, Hilary Birks and John Birks (Langford Press, £23).
Oliver Morton’s Eating the Sun will test to the very limits any layperson’s grasp of chemistry and physics, but this wonderfully lyrical, all-embracing pursuit of life on Earth (published in 2009 by Fourth Estate) is an intellectual adventure of the highest quality and a stake through the heart of any climate-change-denying pseudoscience.