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Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped By the Greatest Land Sale in History Paperback – September 30, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reissue edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452284597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452284593
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Linklater] has the talent not just to let us know how things work, but to make us want to know...A magical mystery tour that leaves the reader both mildly footsore and exhilarated by unexpected connections." —The New York Times



"What's great about history, when done well, is how even the most familiar topics, from the American Revolution to WWII, can be revisited again and again, not just to retell stories but to offer a fresh perspective. That is what Andro Linklater does in Measuring America." —USA Today



"Remarkable...Linklater traces with unusual elegance and a keen wit the epic story of measuring our nation, charting the process by which, with each length of the surveyor's chain, new states were literally bought into being." —Los Angeles Times



 



 



 



 



A

About the Author

Andro Linklater studied history at Oxford University and is a full-time writer and journalist, and author of several books.

Customer Reviews

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Quite amusing, and thoroughly interesting read.
Friendly Folk
Linklater also traces the history of the metric system, in France and Europe, as well as its very limited adoption in the United States.
Amazon Customer
All told, this is a good book to read with a text easy enough for most high school students.
Newton Ooi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
The subtitle of this highly readable book is a bit purple -- "How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy" -- but what the author has to say makes a good case. It's also an amazingly action-packed adventure story. Any genealogist learns early the practical ins and outs of frontier settlement and the titles, grants, and other documents that land claims inevitably produce. In this country, there are two distinct methods of recording those claims: "metes and bounds" in the original colonies and some of their western lands (such as Kentucky) and in Texas, which describe the boundaries of one's land in terms of the points at which it adjoins or "meets" a neighbor's land, and the rectangular survey system developed for use in the public land states created from the nation's later territorial acquisitions. The latter is far more rational and allows a claim to be filed based on geographical location without having actually set foot on the land -- but it also requires preliminary measurement by a party of government surveyors. Linklater lays out in much detail, and with colorful anecdotes, how the first surveys were decided upon and carried out (more or less) in the Northwest Territory, and later in the Plains states and the West. He describes how, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. nearly adopted a rational metric system early in its history (which in France and Prussia was an instrument of centralized government policy), and how that goal was waylaid by clinging to Edmund Gunter's English chain/furlong system, which had the virtue of being easily understood by semi-literate surveyors with minimal mathematical skills.Read more ›
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bruce R. Gilson on December 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. This is one example of the kind of history that can be informative and yet hold the reader's attention, though I admit it is a subject that has interested me a lot anyway.
The book's primary thrust is the history leading to the fact that we do not normally use the metric system in the U. S. I must say that it makes a good case for an idea that I'd never run across before: that this is primarily because the French, in devising the definition of the meter, departed from an idea that many people, including Thomas Jefferson, thought would give the most internationally reproducible standard. Reading this book, it really seems he has his facts right, and his argument is convincing.
I found that the book clarified a number of points that I have wondered about.
One negative thing is that his appendix in the end has some (probably typographical) errors: one table shows 101, 102, etc. for what slould really be 10 with exponents 1, 2, etc.) and in several other tables, "grains" becomes "gains."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Newton Ooi on August 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book tells an important chapter of America's early history; specifically how the land west of the original 13 colonies was measured, carved up, and sold off. Involved in this process was the contest between those who favored a decimal system for America's weights and measures and those who favored the non-decimal English system. The former was pushed by Thomas Jefferson as more systematic, efficient, and highly organized. Unfortunately, the French Revolution and its ensuing systemic, efficient and highly organized executions helped to kill this and many other French-inspired ideas. Instead, the traditional method of feet and inches took hold.

The book describes the mapping of the other states besides the original 13 and how this process showed a precision and efficiency that was unique to America. A look at the US map shows that the original 13 states have highly irregular borders. But as one looks west, state borders become straighter, cleaner, and smoother. Essentially, the original 13 states had their border decided after people moved in and created towns, farms, and villages. This process was reversed to various degrees in the other states, where borders were layed out first to maximize the ease by which the land could be subdivided for sale. Such a process helped America spread westward with ease, speed, and minimal legal hassles and conflicts between neighbors.

The book covers all the major figures involved in this process, from Presidents and other government officials making the decisions, to the cartographers in the wild who drew out the lines in the forests, praries, and fields. All told, this is a good book to read with a text easy enough for most high school students. It should be required reading in high school history classes.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on December 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a good read, but actually seems to be two books. I'm not sure the other reviewers have really gotten that point across.

In one book, the author traces how land was parceled out, surveyed, sold, and settled as the US moved west. It's fascinating stuff, and probably has more do with our history than the obvious and sometimes boring schoolbook emphasis on treaties, battles, and political leaders.

The overall picture it paints is one of a huge land grab, with speculation playing a very large role. It reminds us that the current economic situation we find ourselves in has roots that go back far, and that our politicians (starting with Washington, Jefferson, et al.) have been very closely involved every step of the way.

In the other book, the author talks about measurement systems. Yes, the two do have some interplay, but the author seems to get quite carried away with the latter, devoting large chunks to the metric system, weights, and other topics that really have very little to do with the overall theme. If you find that interesting, great. If not, just skip over it, like I did.

The author is an excellent writer, by the way. He seems to make even the most boring stuff interesting. There did seem to be a little too much of a reliance on individual characters though. He also had some very interesting theories - differences in measurement in the North and South, and between the British and French and Spanish - but I do wish some of these had been developed more.
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