Measuring the World

By Daniel Kehlmann,

Book cover of Measuring the World

Book description

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.…

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Why read it?

2 authors picked Measuring the World as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book is a novel, unabashedly. It describes the lives of our old friend Humboldt and the math genius Karl Friedrich Gauss, culminating in their 1828 encounter in Berlin.

This meeting is a well-documented fact. Not everything else is. Daniel Kehlmann takes his liberties with history. He even boasts of his leger-de-main, like Alexandre Dumas.

The overall outcome is splendidly funny and uncannily wise. The cap-stone irony is that the most implausible episodes of the book are not the ones that the author invented.    


From Karl's list on the poetic side of science.

This book features a scientist traveling the world—but this one has a comic tone. It fictionalizes the true story of Alexander von Humboldt’s and Carl Freidrich Gauss’ competing efforts to measure the globe—one by exploring it and the other using mathematics from his home. One of the reasons I read, including fiction, is to learn. This book taught me a great deal about scientific passion in the post-Napoleonic world. It also inspired me with the liberties it took in characterizing two historical figures, with its ability to lie to tell the truth.

From Elise's list on that lie to tell the truth.

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