Sketches of New Spain

An extraordinary year in the life of a gifted and adventurous scientist

For devotees of the brilliant and largely forgotten 19th-century explorer, naturalist and scientist Alexander von Humboldt, the past year has been something of a bonanza. First came 2016’s The Invention of Nature: Alex­ander von Humboldt’s New World, the excellent biography by Andrea Wulf, which won the coveted £25,000 Royal Society prize in Britain for the best science book of the year, and in Canada was shortlisted for the $75,000 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature. Now along comes Myron Echenberg’s insightful Humboldt’s Mexico: In the Footsteps of the Illustrious German Scientific Traveller, a historical and cultural travelogue and guide to his trips to Mexico from 1803 to 1804. As Echenberg explains, Wulf has given English-speaking readers the best biography to date of the intrepid German scientist. Her book is a thrilling study about a polymath who has more things named...