Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature is about the life of the Prussian explorer and naturalist Humboldt. Yesterday, the book was named winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize.


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Humboldt (1769 – 1859) inspired scientists and writers such as Jules Verne and Charles Darwin. He has more things named after him than anyone who has ever lived, including an ocean current, the Berlin university a six-foot squid and a breed of penguin.

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Bravely, he travelled in the Americas, exploring, climbing and describing natural history. Later, he repeated these holistic feats with horses and carriages from Berlin to east of the Urals.

Wulf’s biography makes clear just how close together science and art were, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It also credits Humboldt for anticipating the destructive influence of humans on the environment.

Turning in the Wind

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David Watkinson has made a series of sculptures based on seeds of the many maple species. They rotate gently in the breeze.


Acer rubra has the typical pairs of seeds with opposite wings:



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Human as Animal

I’ve been reading Jacob Bronowski’s 1956 Science & Human Values, with its essay, The Habit of Truth about Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Lady with a Stoat.


He explains how the painting is a pun about so much that is human: man and animal, a creation of unity. AN Wilson has posted an annotated version of this @MailOnline in 2011:


Bronowski (1908-1974) was a mathematician and anthropologist, best known for his 1973 tv series The Ascent of Man:

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Searching for a truth that human and animals are closely related, Leonardo tests and explores the consequences of the relationship. In the girl and the stoat there is the long brow of the skull, the lucid eyes, the gesture of the hand and the claw, the pale complexion of both, their body language and searching interests.

Early Women Explorers


An exhibition of watercolours of plants and insects from Suriname, is at The Queen’s Gallery, London.


The artist was the dutch naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), one of the earliest scientific illustrators.

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Her work was respected by Linnaeus, purchased by George III. and acknowledged in a sub-species name for a butterfly, Opsiphanes casino merianae.

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In 1699 she sold her house in Amsterdam and, with her daughter, got on a boat to Suriname. For two women it was a dangerous place with tropical heat and pirates.

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The exhibition at Buckingham Palace closes on October 9th.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Today is William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

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Most days, we quote his words:

1. “With bated breath” – The Merchant Of Venice

2. “The be all and end all” – Macbeth

3. “Break the ice” – The Taming Of The Shrew

4. “Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

5. “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

6. “Wild-goose chase” – Romeo And Juliet

7. “Laugh yourself into stitches (in stitches)” – Twelfth Night

8. “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

9. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” – Othello

10. “What’s done, is done” – Macbeth

11. “At one fell swoop” – Macbeth

12. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (There’s method in my madness)” – Hamlet

13. “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

14. “Laughing-stock” – The Merry Wives Of Windsor

15. “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part 2

16. “Fair play” – The Tempest/King John/Troilus And Cressida

17. “In a pickle” – The Tempest

18. “Send him packing” – Henry IV, Part 1

19. “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It


Fotos for Free

Packed with high end photography over selfies, thousands of people upload their photos to sharing sites. Some of these amateur photographers see such work as more than a part-time hobby. Last week, Steve Garrington achieved international recognition for his work. p03gyf1s.jpg  p03gy76q.jpg

In December, his photo of a crashing wave at Porthcawl, Wales, was voted the second best on Flickr for the whole of 2015, beaten only by a photo of a rocket launch from billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX project.



Nabakov’s butterflies

Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabakov’s Scientific Art is published this month by Yale UP – written by SH Blackwell & K Johnson.

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Best known as a novelist, Nabakov was also a curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. The  new biography features 154 of his drawings of ‘blues’ from the group Polyommatini.

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In Nabokov’s best-known novel, Lolita, the town Leppingville is his corruption of lepping (American for chasing butterflies) and Elphinstone is named after the subgenus Elphinstonia. Both in his novels and his entomology Nabokov gave great attention to such detail. He enjoyed the beauty of scientific accuracy and precision.


In this scene from the film of that book, Humbert plays chess with Lolita’s mother as Lolita kisses Humbert goodnight. His line in the scene is “I take your Queen” suggestive of his designs on her daughter. Chess is a recurring motif in the novels of Nabokov and a favorite pastime of director Stanley Kubrick.