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Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (in German Kosmos – Entwurf einer physischen Weltbeschreibung) is an influential treatise on science and nature written by the German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Cosmos began as a lecture series delivered by Humboldt at the University of Berlin, and was published in five volumes between 1845 and 1862 (the fifth was posthumous and completed based on Humboldt's notes). In the first volume of Cosmos, Humboldt paints a general “portrait of nature”, describing the physical nature of outer space and the Earth. In the second volume he describes the history of science. Widely read by academics and laymen alike, it applied the ancient Greek view of the orderliness of the cosmos (the harmony of the universe) to the Earth, suggesting that universal laws applied as well to the apparent chaos of the terrestrial world. Humboldt goes on to suggest that when one contemplates the beauty of the cosmos, one can obtain personal inspiration and a beneficial, if subjective, awareness about life.Cosmos was influenced by Humboldt's various travels and studies, but mainly by his journey throughout the Americas. As he wrote, “it was the discovery of America that planted the seed of the Cosmos.” Due to all of his experience in the field, Humboldt was preeminently qualified for the task to represent the universe in a single work. He had extensive knowledge of many fields of learning, varied experiences as a traveler, and the resources of the scientific and literary world at his disposal.Cosmos was highly popular when it was released, with the first volume selling out in two months, and the work translated into most European languages. Although the natural sciences have diverged from the romantic perspective Humboldt presented in Cosmos, the work is still considered to be a substantial scientific and literary achievement, having influenced subsequent scientific progress and imparted a unifying perspective to the studies of science, nature, and mankind.
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