The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World Paperback – Oct 1 2003
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The Boston Globe These are enthralling, fascinating, even mind-altering pages. Alder imbues the narrative with a tremulous, fever-soaked climax and a lengthy and satisfying denouement.
The Philadelphia Inquirer One of those rare works that both rewrite history and capture the imagination.
The New York Times Book Review Passes a central test of any popular work of history: it bathes the past in the light, life, and humanity of the eternal present.
About the Author
Ken Alder is a professor of history and Milton H. Wilson Professor of the Humanities at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Measure of All Things, published to worldwide acclaim in fourteen languages. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.
Top Customer Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found that the author has done an excellent job of recounting the birth and evolution of the metric system. I found his prose to be friendly, clear, lively and quite engaging. This book should appeal to anyone who enjoys true adventure stories mixed in with captivating history and cutting-edge early nineteenth century science.
The author brings a day-to-day familiarity to the mission, filling in the historical details without the story becoming a dusty history lesson. Not being one particulary interested in European history, I was nonetheless pulled into the tale and thoroughly enjoyed it. The tale was entertaining, and it also introduces one to the concept of "precision" versus "accuracy".
Set against the upheaval in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-Francois-André Méchain journeyed to measure the meridian of Paris from Dunkerque to Barcelona in 1792, little realising the time it would take. If like me, you do not understand the science of geodesy, this is still a very good read, and although the technical details of, for example, Borda's circle are given, this revolutionary (pun intended) piece of equipment can be appreciated from afar. The journeying enabled the metre to be defined, this being one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator, as extrapolated from the measurements of the meridian through France and into Spain. An unforeseen consequence was that the knowledge of the shape of the earth was changed forever by the measurements taken. Hitherto, it had been seen as a uniform, if oblate (fatter at the equator) sphere, if measured at the equator.Read more ›
My favorite aspect of the book was how the measurement expedition was tied to the French Revolution. The decision to switch to the meter, intended to be a gift to the world, was a consequence of the era of rationality in France that led to the Revolution. However it was the Revolution that almost derailed the men. The scientists, rather suspicious when setting up their arcane instruments on top of local high points, were repeatedly detained by locals who mistook them for spies. The extreme political chaos is contrasted nicely with the high-minded goals of the Scientific Academy, seeking to replace France's hodge-podge of measurement systems with a rationally defined and scientifically determined unit.
Unfortunately the senior of the two scientists, Méchain, suffers from a crisis of confidence throughout the narrative, and ended up fudging his results a bit to reduce the appearance of error in his numbers. (Their calculation was off a bit anyway because the curvature of the earth is less uniform than was thought at the time.) Méchain's dawdling and despair take up a rather unenjoyably large amount of the book.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
An engaging read, Measure of all things is the story of the meter and the two intreprid astronmers who set about measuring it. Imagine, France three centuries ago. Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2004 by Raj Man
The Measure of All Things was a wonderful read! I learned so much, not only about the invention of the metric system, but also about the French Revolution and life in France at... Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2004
The story of this book is that two persons decided to measure the earth (from the North Pole to the Ecuador), divide that length by 10 million and that would be the length of the... Read morePublished on Dec 9 2003 by Jorge Frid
This is a fascinating book! Ken Alder covers the birth of the metric system, but manages to work in a marvelous overview of measurement, history of science, philosophy, politics,... Read morePublished on Oct. 6 2003 by Maddi Hausmann
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