- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Free Press (September 24, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 074321675X
- ISBN-13: 978-0743216753
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,400,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2002
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
From Publishers Weekly
Alder delivers a triple whammy with this elegant history of technology, acute cultural chronicle and riveting intellectual adventure built around Delambre's and Mechain's famed meridian expedition of 1792-1799 to calculate the length of the meter. Disclosing for the first time details from the astronomers' personal correspondences (and supplementing his research with a bicycle tour of their route), Alder reveals how the exacting Mechain made a mistake in his calculations, which he covered up, and which tortured him until his death. Mechain, remarkably scrupulous even in his doctoring of the data, was driven in part by his conviction that the quest for precision and a universal measure would disclose the ordered world of 18th-century natural philosophy, not the eccentric, misshapen world the numbers suggested. Indeed, Alder has placed Delambre and Mechain squarely in the larger context of the Enlightenment's quest for perfection in nature and its startling discovery of a world "too irregular to serve as its own measure." Particularly fascinating is his treatment of the politics of 18th-century measurement, notably the challenge the savants of the period faced in imposing a standard of weights and measures in the complicated post-ancien regime climate. Alder convincingly argues that science and self-knowledge are matters of inference, and by extension prone to error. Delambre, a Skeptical Stoic, was the more pragmatic and, perhaps, the more modern of the two astronomers, settling as he did for honesty in error where precision was out of reach.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Most people don't think about how a mile became a mile or a foot a foot, but Alder here presents a fascinating account of how the meter the standard measure of distance for over 95 percent of the world's population became the meter. We live in an era when standard measures for objects and time have become so common that we would have difficulty imagining a world without them. Alder takes us back to revolutionary France, when it is estimated that 250,000 different units of weights and measures were in use. Written in the vein of Dava Sobel's Longitude and reading much like a historical thriller, his book follows the seven-year effort of two accomplished astronomers to measure the meridian and the curvature of the earth from Dunkirk to Barcelona. Imbued with the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment and the revolution's call for universal rights and truth, these scientists strove to create a truly universal standard. Alder's first book, Engineering the Revolution, won the 1998 Dexter Prize; his second is a fascinating and well-written work recommended for medium and large public libraries as well as academic libraries. James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Read reviews that mention
Showing 1-8 of 56 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The discussion on the repeating 'theodolite' was great, as were the trials and tribulations of triangulation. If you've ever measured angles on a mountain top, you'll know just what the author is getting at. A great achievement for an historian, who, we presume, may not have done this kind of work.
There are two other really good parts of this book. The first is the discussion on the search for a 'universal' system of measurement. It places the metric system in a context, not as the be-all and end-all, but as a serious effort to solve a serious set of problems. The discussion of the 'error' is fascinating. This part hasn't changed in nature, just the current details.
The second is the analysis of the personalities of the two central characters. Alder does bring them to life. Having worked in Antarctica for a year and seen people dealing with the stress of isolation, the story was very real to me: I almost knew those guys, albeit in different times and guises. And the stress was real: these guys ran the risks of close encounters with Madame Guillotine, wars, disease, politics, the works. This was quite apart from the normal risks of the job, such as falling off cliffs and towers, exposure, unhappy locals, etc. Thank heavens for GPS, a technology that is possible only because of the foundation work of geodesists like Mechain and Delambre.
Enjoy this book, as a history of measurement and geodesy, a history of a major surveying achievement, and a vivid study of personalities under real stress.
Let me explain. Ancient Sumeria used a system of measurement based on the length of a pendulum whose period was based on the rotation of the Earth relative to the sun. This period of 1/360 parts of a solar day could not be changed by King or commoner. This made it the first universal standard based on properties of the whole Earth. This standard, and its cousins which made use of the stars then the planet Venus to time the rotation of the earth could be easily be reproduced world wide and spread to China and Japan in the East and to Britain in the West. There is even some evidence that it spread to the new world well before the common era.
Mr Alder has written a compelling saga of the attempt to measure the circumference of the Earth in French revolutionary times, He fails to mention that this measurement had been made before the construction of the Great Pyramid and had been refined in the first millennium BCE achieving an accuracy of better than 0.05 percent.
While these facts may have not been known to the French Academy of Science at the time and were thus not central to the story they do indicate that the search for a Universal Standard of Measurement was an age old endeavor and that the earth itself was the measure of that standard.