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Drawing the Line : How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America Hardcover – December 8, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0471385028 ISBN-10: 0471385026 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (December 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471385026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471385028
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hailed as one of the "greatest scientific achievements of its time," and destined to designate the boundary between free states and slave states, the Mason-Dixon Line remains an extraordinary feat in the annals of the science of surveying. Commissioned to establish a borderline between Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1763, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two young British astronomers, toiled for more than four years in order to settle a century-old boundary dispute between the Calverts of Maryland and the Penns of Pennsylvania. Employing revolutionary survey techniques and laboring under often extreme conditions that included harsh weather, mountainous terrain, and Indian warfare, they ventured 325 miles into the American wilderness, accomplishing their task at great risk to their personal safety. A spirited, painstakingly researched account of the first comprehensive geodetic survey ever completed. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"...thoroughly researched... a good story shines through..."(Sunday Times - Book of the Week, 18th March 2001)

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 28 customer reviews
This book makes a good attempt to cover the how and why.
Still an excellent book and one any person interested in the history of science should read.
John Rummel
The book finishes with Mason and Dixon's twilite years and a bitter-sweet ending.
Mark Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on September 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A few years ago, I was kidding around with a high school senior in our school library in northern Illinois, and I quipped, "Well, as Mason said to Dixon, you've got to draw the line somewhere." I expected at least a chuckle in return. The student, academically rated in the top 10% of his class, stared blankly back at me. "Mason and Dixon?" I asked. Nothing. "The Mason-Dixon Line?" Nada. "The border between Pennsylvania and Maryland? The boundary between The North and The South? The whole premise behind the Civil War?" Nope. He had never heard of it. The Line, I mean; of course, he knew about the Civil War.
Maybe I took it for granted, since I grew up in a suburb about 25 miles north of the Line, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Line was there, but nobody made a big deal about it. I don't recall being taught anything about it, myself. I made a mental note to someday rectify that omission.
When Thomas Pynchon's _Mason & Dixon_ was released, I was ready and interested. Ready and interested, that is, until I spied a copy in a bookstore, randomly opened it, and tried to actually read and understand the words on that single page. Hmmm. I returned the book to its display and allowed it to entice another potential buyer.
As soon as Danson's book came out, I was ready and interested in the subject matter once again. And I believe I made the right choice with this one. There's A LOT of trigonometry and technical information in parts, and all of the math teachers in my past wouldn't be a bit surprised that I sort of skimmed over those paragraphs. But the extent of the politics and 18th-century science involved is intriguing.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "number__six" on January 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
No matter what you learned or didn't learn at school about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon and the famous line(s) they drew. Its quite likely that no-one ever explained to you the how and the why of what Mason & Dixon did and how they achieved it and more to the point, just how extremely difficult and time consuming their task was in the 1760's.
To put their achievements in perspective. Then, it was probably the modern equivalent of putting a man on the moon - without a global audience.
Nowadays with modern clocks and Global Positioning satellite systems and the inclination to do so, we could do in a few days what took Mason & Dixon nearly 5 years to complete.
This book makes a good attempt to cover the how and why. It gives a lot of the back story and related history that covers the original granting by English royalty of grants of land that would eventually become the US states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland and why the vague and incorrect nature of these original grants caused the boundary disputes between these colonies.
The book also briefly covers what Mason & Dixon did to become the right people in the right place for this surveying job. Then it covers what & some of the how, Mason & Dixon did in the actual survey and boundary determination process and also what they did separately and sometimes together during the cold winters between the surveying 'seasons' when it was too cold to continue surveying which gives some flavour of the times shortly before America declared independence - most of this comes from the Journal that Mason kept, which is now preserved in the US National Archives having been lost for many years after the War of Independence.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark Johnson on November 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Who hasn't heard of Mason and Dixon but Drawing the Line makes them seem like old friends. This is one of those books you occasionally find that gives you `two for the price of one'.
The book begins with the founding of Maryland and Pennsylvania and background to the quarrels between the colonies - interesting things I never knew about America and Britain. Danson then tells about contemporary astronomy science and surveying, which is equally interesting. There are no maths or complex equations (sorry Dreckman and Lorenzi but I couldn't find any and I read the whole book) but there is an appendix with technical explanations for those who like that sort of thing but I skipped it.
The story is how Mason and Dixon are recruited by the British Royal Society to go to South Africa to record the transit of Venus and measure the distance to the sun and on the way they are ambushed by a French warship. The excellence of their work in Africa makes them the ideal men to survey the Maryland / Pennsylvania border. Danson then follows the adventures of Mason and Dixon as they survey the borderlines and explore America. The period of their work coincides with the independence movement and the narrative is full of contemporary comment, issues and observation. They also measure a `degree of latitude' to discover the size of the earth. The book finishes with Mason and Dixon's twilite years and a bitter-sweet ending.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the excitement mixing science with history makes. It is finely pitched enough to make you think a little but you don't need to be an astrophysicist to understand or enjoy it. Excellent fun.
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More About the Author

Edwin Danson was born in 1948 in post-war London. At the age of six, his parents bought a business in a strange village in East Kent and the family moved into a large rambling and rather scary house which had a tendency to move about in stong winds.
After a narrow grammar school education he abandoned his chosen veterinary career and joined the Ordnance Survey. The civil service was not for him, or vice versa, so he became first a land surveyor then, in 1972, returned to college to study hydrography and spent the next 11 years at sea.
His first narrative history, Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America, was born on the waves of the North Sea. It took him nearly five years to research and complete. By comparison, his follow-up narrative history, Weighing the World: the Quest to Measure the Earth, took just three years.
Edwin's interest in world measuring is founded on solid ground - he's a Chartered Surveyor and professional geospatial engineering surveyor as well as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His two narrative histories exploit his knowledge and experience of surveying remote lands and seas before the advent of GPS spoiled everything. In 2006, he was elected President of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors.
Apart from his histories, Edwin has co-authored and been lead editor on a number of professional books. In 2004 he won the Lifestories short story competition with The Party, a modified chapter from an account of early childhood in Kent which is yet to be completed.
Edwin Danson's publisher, New England Publishing Associates, closed with the retirement of its owner and so his next major narrative history (an Egypt-centric work of importance, and nothing to do with surveying) is looking for a new agent/publisher.
Two other projects are underway - one, a three-part satire, is approaching final draft and the other, a collection of curious short stories, moves forward slowly.