The Great Arc : The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named, Paperback

The Great Arc : The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A vivid description of one of the most ambitious scientific projects undertaken in the 19th century, and the men who undertook the measurement of the Himalayas and the mapping of the Indian subcontinent: William Lambton and George Everest.

The graphic story of the measurement of a meridian, or longitudinal, arc extending from the tip of the Indian subcontinent to the mountains of the Himalayas.

Much the longest such measurement hitherto made, it posed horrendous technical difficulties, made impossible physical demands on the survey parties (jungle, tigers, mountains etc.), and took over 50 years.

But the scientific results were commensurate, including the discovery of the world's highest peaks and a new calculation of the curvature of the earth's surface.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 triggered a massive construction of roads, railways, telegraph lines and canals throughout India: all depended heavily on the accuracy of the maps which the Great Arc had made possible.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 226 pages, 16 b/w plates (16pp), (+ maps & diagrams)
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Asian history
  • ISBN: 9780006531234



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Interesting account of one of the major scientific projects of the 19th century - the trigonometric survey of India known as "The Great Arc" carried out by British surveyors. The project lasted decades and was overseen by two men, the second of whom, Colonel John Everest was recognized by having Mount Everest (actually pronounced Eve-rest) named after him. An interesting story for those who are interested in the history of the region, of the British empire, or in geography. Others may find it dry and tough going, even though it is fairly short.

Review by

This is one more of John Keay's little gems, and like his other book "Into India", this does the name of specific Britons a great favour. I did know that Mount Everest was named after George Everest, but I did not know the story of George Everest and Lambdon. When I read the book, I doffed my imaginary hat at the two gentlemen several times. What they achieved, is something outstanding. Given the nature of the instruments that they had, and the difficulties of traveling in India, only passion and scientific rigor could have helped them achieve the almost impossible.John Keay's book does great service to these forgotten heroes. He brings out the enormity of their task with clarity, and without sounding bombastic in the least. He brings their contrasting characters to life, and I am left with the feeling that we, in India, are in debt to these gents, and it is a shame that they have been so totally forgotten. Everest, at least, has a mountain named after him, whereas it was difficult for John Keay to even find Lambdon's grave in the central part of India. This is a brilliant book, written in a manner that is revealing and pithy. Read it. I am glad I bought it, even though I chanced upon it by accident, and bought it out of a whimsy. I am glad I did.

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