100 books like Measuring the World

By Daniel Kehlmann,

Here are 100 books that Measuring the World fans have personally recommended if you like Measuring the World. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World

Maxim Samson Author Of Invisible Lines: Boundaries and Belts That Define the World

From my list on redefining your understanding of geography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Geography professor at DePaul University with a long-standing obsession with the world, comparing puddle shapes to countries as a small child and subsequently initiating map and flag collections that I cultivate to this day. Having lived in different parts of the UK and the USA, as well as being fortunate enough to travel further afield, I’ve relished the opportunity to explore widely and chat with the people who know their places best. I love books that alter how I look at the planet, and I am particularly intrigued by the subtle ways in which people have shaped our world—and our perceptions of it—both intentionally and inadvertently.

Maxim's book list on redefining your understanding of geography

Maxim Samson Why did Maxim love this book?

Even prior to reading this book, I casually considered Alexander von Humboldt to be one of my geographical heroes, a workaholic as addicted to adventure as he was obsessed with advancing our understanding of the planet.

However, Wulf’s book opened my eyes not only to the sheer extent of his contributions to how we view the world, from human-induced climate change to the development of increasingly accurate and informative maps and diagrams but also to his cultural and political significance, influencing politicians and inspiring poets to continue fashioning and representing the planet as they see fit.

In placing the founder of ecology and modern environmentalism centre-stage, this engaging biography extols Humboldt’s revolutionary understanding of how the natural and human worlds are interconnected and helps us appreciate how our relationship with the planet can be scientific and emotional simultaneously. 

By Andrea Wulf,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Invention of Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 COSTA BIOGRAPHY AWARD

WINNER OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE 2016

'A thrilling adventure story' Bill Bryson

'Dazzling' Literary Review

'Brilliant' Sunday Express

'Extraordinary and gripping' New Scientist

'A superb biography' The Economist

'An exhilarating armchair voyage' GILES MILTON, Mail on Sunday

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist - more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there's a penguin, a giant squid - even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.

His colourful adventures read…


Book cover of The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Karl Sigmund Author Of The Waltz of Reason: The Entanglement of Mathematics and Philosophy

From my list on the poetic side of science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life as a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, faithful to my first boyish infatuation. Yet, I always had an eye for the dangerous charms of philosophy. In the end, I succumbed and wrote The Waltz of Reason, convinced that the countless interactions of mathematics and philosophy provide the greatest adventure stories of reason, the scientific sagas which will remain as the most enduring and the most romantic account of humanity’s progress.   

Karl's book list on the poetic side of science

Karl Sigmund Why did Karl love this book?

Every few years, I return to this book for its sheer elegance.

Richard Holmes made his name as the foremost biographer of England’s romantic poets–Shelley, Coleridge, the lot. Eventually, he fell, like them, under the thrall of the science of their age.

The attraction between artists and scientists was mutual. Coleridge attended the public lectures on chemistry by Humphry Davy because they “improved his stocks in metaphors”; William Herschel composed two dozen symphonies before he put an eye to a telescope; and Mary Shelley wrote (a few years after electricity made frog legs twitch) a darkly prescient account of baron Frankenstein’s deeds.

Richard Holmes’ book has all the uplift and effortless grace of a balloon flight (and my favorite chapter is on ballooning, actually–it serves as a prelude to Holmes’ equally spellbinding “Falling Upwards”).   

By Richard Holmes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Age of Wonder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, Richard Holmes's dazzling portrait of the age of great scientific discovery is a groundbreaking achievement.

The book opens with Joseph Banks, botanist on Captain Cook's first Endeavour voyage, who stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769 fully expecting to have located Paradise. Back in Britain, the same Romantic revolution that had inspired Banks was spurring other great thinkers on to their own voyages of artistic and scientific discovery - astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical - that together made up the 'age of wonder'.

In this…


Book cover of Coming Through Slaughter

Philip Watson Author Of Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed the Sound of American Music

From my list on jazz (and a whole lot more).

Why am I passionate about this?

I've mostly made my living as a feature writer, covering a broad range of subjects—from 9/11 to the Poker Million tournament, Miles Davis to (a film version of) James Joyce’s Ulysses, British soldiers injured in Afghanistan to the Peace One Day campaign—for numerous UK and Irish newspapers and magazines, including GQ, where I was formerly deputy editor, and Esquire, where I was editor-at-large. I've also written extensively about music, jazz in particular; musicians I've interviewed include Nick Cave, Gil Scott-Heron, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, and Maria Schneider. My first book, a biography of the American guitarist Bill Frisell, was published by Faber in the spring of 2022.

Philip's book list on jazz (and a whole lot more)

Philip Watson Why did Philip love this book?

Another work that is wonderfully and winningly hard to pin down, Coming Through Slaughter is an imaginative and fragmentary collage of monologue, memoir, interviews, lyrics, photographs, archival material, hospital files—and white space—that builds a novelistic portrait of the mythical dark life and hard times of cornet player Buddy Bolden, one of the originators of jazz in New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century. From the little that is known about Bolden and his music, Ondaatje shapes an audacious story that is short, cinematic, dream-like, and devastating, a book that incontrovertibly proved once again to me that there are many, many ways to tell the story of a life. 

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Coming Through Slaughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover Michael Ondaatje's debut novel, 'a beautifully detailed story, perhaps the finest jazz novel ever written' Sunday Times

Based on the life of cornet player Buddy Bolden, one of the legendary jazz pioneers of turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Orleans, Coming Through Slaughter is an extraordinary recreation of a remarkable musical life and a tragic conclusion. Through a collage of memoirs, interviews, imaginary conversations and monologues, Ondaatje builds a picture of a man who would work by day at a barber shop and by night unleash his talent to wild audiences who had never experienced such playing. But Buddy was also playing the…


Book cover of The Farming of Bones

Donna Hemans Author Of The House of Plain Truth

From my list on haunting: how the past lingers with us.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a culture that both fears and embraces spirits or outrightly rejects the idea that spirits live on beyond death. I grew up on stories of rolling calves and duppies that caused havoc among the living. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by what haunts us—whether it be our familial spirits that float among the living and continue to play a role in our lives, our memories, or our past actions. I’ve written three books that play with this idea of past actions lingering long into the characters’ lives and returning in unexpected ways.  

Donna's book list on haunting: how the past lingers with us

Donna Hemans Why did Donna love this book?

Even though I grew up in Jamaica, which is about 334 miles from Haiti, I knew nothing about the 1937 Parsley Massacre, during which thousands of Haitians were executed under the orders of Dominican President Rafael Trujillo.

This book blends the personal love story of Amabelle and Sebastien with the history and politics of that time. I came away from this book with a greater understanding of survival, racism in the Caribbean, and the power of memory. 

By Edwidge Danticat,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Farming of Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 1937, and Amabelle Desir is a young Haitian woman working as a maid for a wealthy family in the Dominican Republic, across the border from her homeland. The Republic, under the iron rule of the Generalissimo, treats the Haitians as second-class citizens, and although Amabelle feels a strong sense of loyalty to her employers, especially since her own parents drowned crossing the river from Haiti, racial tensions are heightened when Amabelle's boss accidentally kills a Haitian in a car accident. The accident is a catalyst for a systematic round-up of Haitians, ostensibly for repatriation but in fact a…


Book cover of Ship Fever: Stories

Elise Blackwell Author Of Hunger

From my list on that lie to tell the truth.

Why am I passionate about this?

Three of my five novels have largely tragic historical settings—the siege of Leningrad, the Great Flood of 1927, and Hurricane Katrina—and I’ve always been fascinated and awed by how people survive the things they do. The origin of “May you live in interesting times” is disputed, but undoubtedly it's more curse than blessing. I’m also just fascinated by the way writers bring real people and events to life in new ways. As the daughter of scientists, I’m often drawn to works of fiction that feature scientists, real or invented. 

Elise's book list on that lie to tell the truth

Elise Blackwell Why did Elise love this book?

I’m the daughter of two scientists, and this book was deeply important to me when I first read it. It helped me understand my parents’ passion for and pursuit of botanical knowledge. Many of the characters in this collection (a novella and stories) are fictional botanists, but historical figures appear in several stories. For instance, “The English Pupil” features an elderly Carl Linnaeus and explores themes of botany and regret.

By Andrea Barrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ship Fever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In "Ship Fever," the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history's most tragic epidemics. In "The English Pupil," Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in "The Littoral Zone," two marine…


Book cover of Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories

Elise Blackwell Author Of Hunger

From my list on that lie to tell the truth.

Why am I passionate about this?

Three of my five novels have largely tragic historical settings—the siege of Leningrad, the Great Flood of 1927, and Hurricane Katrina—and I’ve always been fascinated and awed by how people survive the things they do. The origin of “May you live in interesting times” is disputed, but undoubtedly it's more curse than blessing. I’m also just fascinated by the way writers bring real people and events to life in new ways. As the daughter of scientists, I’m often drawn to works of fiction that feature scientists, real or invented. 

Elise's book list on that lie to tell the truth

Elise Blackwell Why did Elise love this book?

Each of the mostly very short stories in this collection features at least one animal and at least one real person—from Madonna to Thomas Edison and from David Hasselhoff’s dogwalker to Nicola Tesla. It’s funny, sad, and textured, uniting my interest in scientists with my love of animals. Often funny and often sad, each story is a gem of craft, sentence by sentence. As a writer, I admire the audacity of the project and the exuberant skill with which is carried out. This is not a book I could write, and I love it for showing me such a radically different approach to lying to tell the truth.

By Lydia Millet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love in Infant Monkeys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Animals and celebrities share unusual relationships in these hilarious satirical stories by an award-winning contemporary writer.

  Lions, Komodo dragons, dogs, monkeys, and pheasants―all have shared spotlights and tabloid headlines with celebrities such as Sharon Stone, Thomas Edison, and David Hasselhoff. Millet hilariously tweaks these unholy communions to run a stake through the heart of our fascination with famous people and pop culture in a wildly inventive collection of stories that “evoke the spectrum of human feeling and also its limits” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review).

  While in so much fiction animals exist as symbols of good and evil or as author…


Book cover of The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

Karl Sigmund Author Of The Waltz of Reason: The Entanglement of Mathematics and Philosophy

From my list on the poetic side of science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life as a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, faithful to my first boyish infatuation. Yet, I always had an eye for the dangerous charms of philosophy. In the end, I succumbed and wrote The Waltz of Reason, convinced that the countless interactions of mathematics and philosophy provide the greatest adventure stories of reason, the scientific sagas which will remain as the most enduring and the most romantic account of humanity’s progress.   

Karl's book list on the poetic side of science

Karl Sigmund Why did Karl love this book?

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, two astronomers set out from Paris, one due north towards Dunkerque, the other south towards Barcelona. Their task was to measure the length of the meridian arc between these two towns and, ultimately, to determine the precise length of the new-fangled meter, meant to serve as a unit of measurement “for all people, for all time.”

This may appear to be a humdrum task. It was anything but. At that time, royal heads fell, armies sprung from the ground, and money went into hiding. The author is as painstaking about historical detail as his protagonists were about their measurements. He left out no provincial archive and no calculation scribbled on a margin.

The outcome reads like a novel, splendidly conveying the quixotic flavor of the enterprise and the Sisyphus-like dedication of its protagonists.  

By Ken Alder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Measure of All Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June 1792, amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, two intrepid astronomers set out in opposite directions on an extraordinary journey. Starting in Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre would make his way north to Dunkirk, while Pierre-François-André Méchain voyaged south to Barcelona. Their mission was to measure the world, and their findings would help define the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator—a standard that would be used “for all people, for all time.”

The Measure of All Things is the astonishing tale of one of history’s greatest scientific adventures. Yet behind the public triumph…


Book cover of The Maniac

Karl Sigmund Author Of The Waltz of Reason: The Entanglement of Mathematics and Philosophy

From my list on the poetic side of science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent most of my life as a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, faithful to my first boyish infatuation. Yet, I always had an eye for the dangerous charms of philosophy. In the end, I succumbed and wrote The Waltz of Reason, convinced that the countless interactions of mathematics and philosophy provide the greatest adventure stories of reason, the scientific sagas which will remain as the most enduring and the most romantic account of humanity’s progress.   

Karl's book list on the poetic side of science

Karl Sigmund Why did Karl love this book?

Again, fiction that is based on facts–but in this novel, the facts take over and engulf the reader in an apocalyptic tornado.

The book has an obsessive quality. Most of it deals with the life of the legendary mathematician John von Neumann, known as the “father of the computer,” who switched from pure mathematics to nuclear destruction, artificial life, and various other games.

Labatut’s admirably well-researched saga explores the inhuman face of science and the demonic aspects of progress “for which there is no cure” (copyright John von Neumann). A technological maelstrom to give Edgar Allan Poe the creeps, the book shows that romantic science has come a long way since Dr. Frankenstein. 


By Benjamin Labatut,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Maniac as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of When We Cease to Understand the World: a dazzling, kaleidoscopic book about the destructive chaos lurking in the history of computing and AIJohnny von Neumann was an enigma. As a young man, he stunned those around him with his monomaniacal pursuit of the unshakeable foundations of mathematics. But when his faith in this all-encompassing system crumbled, he began to put his prodigious intellect to use for those in power. As he designed unfathomable computer systems and aided the development of the atomic bomb, his work pushed increasingly into areas that were beyond human comprehension and control…


Book cover of Humboldt and the Cosmos

Michael Layland Author Of In Nature's Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island

From my list on the history of natural history.

Why am I passionate about this?

In Nature’s Realm is my third book on the theme of exploration of Vancouver Island, my home for the past thirty years, and my first focussed on the history of natural history. In it, I call upon decades of experience in mapping hitherto scarcely known parts of the world, combined with a keen fascination with the fauna and flora of the many places where I have lived and worked. I have marvelled at the work of the exploring naturalists and am fascinated with their personal histories. I find it enthralling how they each added to the sum of human knowledge of the wonders of the natural world, now so sadly threatened.

Michael's book list on the history of natural history

Michael Layland Why did Michael love this book?

Between 1799 and 1804 the Prussian polymath, Baron Alexander von Humboldt, explored South America and Mexico, studying and collecting from the natural world. He devoted the next 30 years to writing and publishing scientific treatises on his discoveries in physical geography and natural history. He established the concept of plant geography. In the final years of his long life, he worked to publish Cosmos, a work of enormous scope and depth—his vision of the nature of the world—and fundamental to the study of the history of natural history. I treasure in my library several of von Humboldt’s works and so found this summation of the travels and work of one of the world’s greatest natural scientists especially helpful. It is profusely illustrated.  

By Douglas Botting,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Humboldt and the Cosmos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Incredible account of Humbolt's journeys through South America.


Book cover of Alexander Von Humboldt: A Metabiography

David N. Livingstone Author Of The Empire of Climate: A History of an Idea

From my list on the history of ideas.

Why am I passionate about this?

My love for ideas and their history was born when I was still in high school. It was my old English teacher who first opened up the power of ideas in literature to change the world. I’m pretty sure he loved Eleanor Roosevelt’s comment: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Whether or not that’s true, my taste was further sharpened when I took a two-year course on the history of thought about nature and culture as an undergraduate student. I was captivated. 

David's book list on the history of ideas

David N. Livingstone Why did David love this book?

What struck me about this book was its enigmatic subtitle: A Metabiography. Here, I encountered not a biography of the great Prussian scientific traveler Alexander von Humboldt but a host of different Humboldts: Humboldt the liberal democrat, Humboldt the Aryan supremacist, Humboldt the anti-slavery Marxist, and Humboldt the pioneer of globalization.

What I discovered is that biographers construct their subjects in the image of their own time and place. This impressed me with two thoughts: that all scientific reputations are fundamentally unstable and that all of us are composed of multiple selfhoods.

By Nicolaas A Rupke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alexander Von Humboldt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is one of the most celebrated figures of late-modern science, famous for his work in physical geography, botanical geography, and climatology, and his role as one of the first great popularizers of the sciences. His momentous accomplishments have intrigued German biographers from the Prussian era to the fall of the Berlin wall, all of whom configured and reconfigured Humboldt's life according to the sensibilities of the day.This volume, the first metabiography of the great scientist, traces Humboldt's biographical identities through Germany's collective past to shed light on the historical instability of our scientific heroes.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Age of Enlightenment, presidential biography, and France?

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