Measuring the World, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Measuring the World recreates the parallel but contrasting lives of two geniuses of the German Enlightenment - the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss.

Towards the end of the 18th century, these two brilliant young Germans set out to measure the world.

Humboldt, a Prussian aristocrat schooled for greatness, negotiates savannah and jungle, climbs the highest mountain then known to man, counts head lice on the heads of the natives, and explores every hole in the ground.

Gauss, a man born in poverty who will be recognised as the greatest mathematician since Newton, does not even need to leave his home in G ttingen to know that space is curved.

He can run prime numbers in his head, cannot imagine a life without women and yet jumps out of bed on his wedding night to jot down a mathematical formula.

Measuring the World is a novel of rare charm and readability, distinguished by its sly humour and unforgettable characterization.

It brings the two eccentric geniuses to life, their longings and their weaknesses, their balancing act between loneliness and love, absurdity and greatness, failure and success.


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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

You know that opening phase of a book? Where you turn the pages determinedly, as though you're striking matches, waiting for it to light? Well, for me that phase went from the first page to the last. Always it seemed a promising build-up for the coming story, but nothing tangible ever materialised. Little vignettes and digressions do not a good book make,and though it was easy enough to read, I was never gripped or even close. It has received plenty of encomia, but for the life of me I have no idea why.

Review by

A rapidly moving recounting of a couple of the early popular science heroes. Humboldt and Gauss.A really quickly moving writing style which benefits from being a translation in some kind of hard to pin down way. The prose style is unusual but clear enough and keeps the reader turning the pages rapidly.The narrative plunges along and so much is left unsaid about ancillary characters and events that if almost feels like a morality tale at times.So yes I enjoyed it, but no I don't think it was the masterpiece that many of the papers claimed when this book first came out.

Review by

A wonderful book, alwys saying less whenever possible, leaving you to think things through yourself, I do enjoy that. I suppose today one would say that Gauss and Humboldt were a bit autistic...maybe it could be said that their life is what happens when one has an overwhelming passion and ability for something. I thought the translation was excellent and the wit made me laugh out loud.

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