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Measuring the World marks the debut of a glorious new talent on the international scene. Young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann’s brilliant comic novel revolves around the meeting of two colossal geniuses of the Enlightenment.
     Late in the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the aristocratic naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates jungles, voyages down the Orinoco River, tastes poisons, climbs the highest mountain known to man, counts head lice, and explores and measures every cave and hill he comes across. The other, the reclusive and barely socialized mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, can prove that space is curved without leaving his home. Terrifyingly famous and wildly eccentric, these two polar opposites finally meet in Berlin in 1828, and are immediately embroiled in the turmoil of the post-Napolean world.

Review

"A masterfully realized, wonderfully entertaining and deeply satisfying novel. . . . Addictively readable and genuinely and deeply funny."
Los Angeles Times

"Kehlmann''s lightly surreal style [is] a mixture of comedy, romance and the macabre, with flashes of magical realism that read like Borges in the Black Forest."
The Washington Post Book World

"Elegant and measured in design and expression. . . . What distinguishes Kehlmann are quickness of pace and lightness of touch."
The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Daniel Kehlmann was born in 1975 in Munich, the son of a director and an actress. He attended a Jesuit college in Vienna, traveled widely, and has won several awards for previous novels and short stories, most recently the 2005 Candide Award. His works have been translated into more than twenty languages, and Measuring the World became an instant best seller in several European countries. Kehlmann is spending the fall of 2006 as writer-in-residence at New York University’s Deutsches Haus. He lives in Vienna.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Journey

In September 1828, the greatest mathematician in the country left his hometown for the first time in years, to attend the German Scientific Congress in Berlin. Naturally he had no desire to go. He had been declining to accept for months, but Alexander von Humboldt had remained adamant, until in a moment of weakness and the hope that the day would never come, he had said yes.

So now Professor Gauss was hiding in bed. When Minna told him he must get up, the coach was waiting and it was a long journey, he wrapped his arms around the pillow and tried to make his wife disappear by closing his eyes. When he opened them again and Minna was still there, he told her she was a hindrance, and limited, and the misfortune of his old age. When that didn’t work either, he pushed back the coverlet and set his feet on the floor.

Bad-temperedly, he performed the most minimal ablutions and went downstairs. In the parlor, his son Eugen was waiting with a bag packed. As Gauss caught sight of him, he flew into a rage: he broke a jug that was standing on the windowsill, stamped his foot, and struck out wildly. He wasn’t even to be calmed when Eugen to one side of him and Minna to the other laid their hands on his shoulders and swore that he would be well taken care of, he would soon be home again, and everything would be over in no time, just like a bad dream. Only when his ancient mother, disturbed by the noise, emerged from her room to pinch his cheek and ask what had happened to her brave boy did he pull himself together. Without warmth he said goodbye to Minna, and absentmindedly stroked the heads of his daughter and youngest son. Then he allowed himself to be helped into the coach.

The journey was a torture. He called Eugen a failure, took the knobbed stick away from him, and jabbed it full force at his foot. For a time he stared out of the window, a frown on his face, then asked when his daughter was finally going to get married. Why didn’t anyone want her, what was the problem?

Eugen pushed back his long hair, kneaded his red cap with both hands, and didn’t want to answer.

Out with it, said Gauss.

To be honest, said Eugen, his sister wasn’t exactly pretty.

Gauss nodded; the answer seemed a plausible one. He said he wanted a book.

Eugen gave him the one he had just opened: Friedrich Jahn’s German Gymnastics. It was one of his favorites.

Gauss tried to read, but seconds later he was already glancing up to complain about the newfangled leather suspension on the coach; it made you feel even sicker than usual. Soon, he explained, machines would be carrying people from town to town at the speed of a shot. Then you’d do the trip from Göttingen to Berlin in half an hour.

Eugen shrugged.

It was both odd and unjust, said Gauss, a real example of the pitiful arbitrariness of existence, that you were born into a particular time and held prisoner there whether you wanted it or not. It gave you an indecent advantage over the past and made you a clown vis-à-vis the future.

Eugen nodded sleepily.

Even a mind like his own, said Gauss, would have been incapable of achieving anything in early human history or on the banks of the Orinoco, whereas in another two hundred years each and every idiot would be able to make fun of him and invent the most complete nonsense about his charac- ter. He thought things over, called Eugen a failure again, and turned his attention to the book. As he read, Eugen in his distress turned his face fixedly to the window, to hide his look of mortification and anger.

German Gymnastics was all about exercise equipment. The author expounded at length on this or that piece of appara- tus which he had invented for swinging oneself up or around on. He called one the pommel horse, another the beam, and another the vaulting horse.

The man was out of his mind, said Gauss, opened the window, and threw the book out.

That was his book, cried Eugen.

Quite so, said Gauss, dropped off to sleep, and didn’t stir until they reached the stop at the frontier that evening and the horses were being changed.

While the old horses were being unhitched and the new ones harnessed up, they ate potato soup in an inn. The only other guest, a thin man with a long beard and hollow cheeks, inspected them furtively from the next table. Everything pertaining to the body, said Gauss, who to his irritation had been dreaming about gym apparatus, was the true source of all humiliation. He had always considered it a sign of God’s malicious sense of humor that a spirit such as his should be trapped in a sickly body while a common or garden-variety creature like Eugen was, to all intents and purposes, never ill.

He had had a severe attack of smallpox when he was a child, said Eugen. He had almost died. You could still see the scars!

True, said Gauss, he’d forgotten. He pointed to the post horses outside the window. It was actually quite funny that the rich needed twice as much time to make a journey as the poor. If you used post horses, you could change them after every section. If you had your own, you had to wait until they were fresh again.

So what, said Eugen.

Naturally, said Gauss, if you didn’t think that much, this would seem obvious. As would the fact that young men carry sticks, and old men don’t.

Students carry a knobbed stick, said Eugen. It had always been that way and always would be.

Probably, said Gauss, and smiled.

They spooned up their soup in silence until the gendarme from the frontier post came in to ask for their passports. Eugen gave him his permit: a certificate from the Court which said that although he was a student he was harmless and was permitted to set foot on Prussian soil if accompanied by his father. The gendarme looked at him suspiciously, inspected the pass, nodded, and turned to Gauss. Gauss had nothing.

No passport, asked the gendarme, astonished, no piece of paper, no official stamp, nothing?

He had never needed such a thing, said Gauss. The last time he crossed the border from Hannover had been twenty years ago. There hadn’t been any problems then.

Eugen tried to explain who they were, where they were going, and at whose bidding. The Scientific Congress was taking place under the auspices of the crown. As guest of honor, his father’s invitation came, so to speak, directly from the king.

The gendarme wanted a passport.

There was no way he could know, said Eugen, but his father was honored in the most distant countries, he was a member of all Academies, had been known since his first youth as the Prince of Mathematics.

Gauss nodded. People said it was because of him that Napo- leon had decided not to bombard Göttingen.

Eugen went white.

Napoleon, repeated the gendarme.

Indeed, said Gauss.

The gendarme demanded his passport again, louder than before.

Gauss laid his head down on his arms and didn’t move. Eugen nudged him but it did no good. He didn’t care, said Gauss, he wanted to go home, he didn’t give a hoot.

The gendarme fidgeted uneasily with his cap.

Then the man from the next table joined in. All this would end! Germany would be free, and good citizens would live unmolested and travel sound in mind and body, and would have no further need of bits of paper.

The incredulous gendarme asked for his passport.

That was exactly what he meant, cried the man, and dug around in his pockets. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet, knocking over his chair, and bolted outside. The gendarme gaped at the open door for several seconds before pulling himself together and going in pursuit.

Gauss slowly raised his head. Eugen suggested that they set off again immediately. Gauss nodded and ate the rest of his soup in silence. The little gendarme’s hut was empty, both officers having gone after the man with the beard. Eugen and the coachman together pried the barrier up into the air. Then they drove onto Prussian soil.

Gauss was in good order now, almost cheerful, and talking about differential geometry. It was almost impossible to imagine where the investigation into curved space would lead next. Eugen should be glad he was so mediocre, sometimes such questions could be terrifying. Then he talked about how bitter his youth had been. His own father had been hard and dismissive, so Eugen should think himself lucky. He had started to count before he could talk. Once his father had made an error when he was counting out his monthly pay, and this had made Gauss start to cry. As soon as his father caught the mistake, he immediately fell quiet again.

Eugen looked impressed, even though he knew the story wasn’t true. His brother Joseph had made it up and spread it around. His father must have heard it recounted so often that he had begun to believe it himself.

Gauss’s conversation turned to chance, the enemy of all knowledge, and the thing he had always wished to overcome. Viewed from up close, one could detect the infinite fineness of the web of causality behind every event. Step back and the larger patterns appeared: Freedom and Chance were a question of distance, a point of view. Did he understand?

Sort of, said Eugen wearily, looking at his pocket watch. It didn’t keep very good time, but he thought it must be between four-fifty and five in the morning.

But the laws of probability, Gauss went on, pressing both hands against his aching back, weren’t conclusive. They were not part of the laws of nature, and there could be exceptions. Take an intellect like his own, for example, or a win at a game of chance, which any simpleton could undeniably pull off at any time. Sometimes he actually theorized that even the laws of physics were merely statistical, hence they allowed for exceptions: ghosts or thought transference.

Eugen asked if this was a joke.

He couldn’t answer that himself, said Gauss, closed his eyes, and went into a deep sleep.

They reached Berlin the next day in the late afternoon. Thousands of little houses in a chaotic sprawl, a settlement overflowing its banks in the swampiest spot in Europe. The first splendid buildings were beginning to go up: a cathedral, some palaces, a museum to house the finds from Humboldt’s great expedition.

In a few years, said Eugen, this would be a metropolis like Rome, Paris, or St. Petersburg.

Never, said Gauss. Horrible place!

The coach bumped over badly laid cobblestones. Twice the horses shied away from growling dogs, and in the side streets the wheels almost stuck fast in the wet sand. Their host lived in the Packhof at number 4, in the middle of the city, right behind the building site of the new museum. To make sure they didn’t miss it, he had drawn a very precise plan with a fine pen. Someone must have seen them from a distance and announced their arrival, for a matter of seconds after they pulled into the courtyard, the main door flew open and four men were running towards them.

Alexander von Humboldt was a little old gentleman with snow-white hair. Behind him came a secretary with an open pad of writing paper, a flunkey in livery, and a young man with whiskers carrying a stand with a wooden box on it. As if rehearsed, they took up their positions. Humboldt stretched out his arms towards the door of the coach.

Nothing happened.

From inside the vehicle came sounds of hectic speech. No, cried someone, no! A dull blow rang out, then a third no! After which there was nothing for a while.

Finally the door swung open and Gauss clambered carefully down into the street. He shrank back as Humboldt seized him by the shoulders and cried what an honor it was, what a great moment for Germany, for science, for him personally.

The secretary was taking notes, and the man behind the wooden box hissed, Now!

Humboldt froze. This was Monsieur Daguerre, he whispered without moving his lips. A protégé of his, who was working on a piece of equipment which would fix the moment on a light-sensitive silver iodide plate and snatch it out of the onrush of time. Please hold absolutely still!

Gauss said he wanted to go home.

Just a moment, whispered Humboldt, a mere fifteen minutes, tremendous progress had been made already. Until recently it had taken much longer, when they tried it first he had thought his back wouldn’t hold out under the strain. Gauss wanted to pull himself free, but the little old man held him with surprising strength and murmured, Bring word to the king. The flunkey was off at a run. Then, probably because that was what was going through his mind at that moment: Take a note. Check possibility of breeding seals in Warnemünde, conditions seem propitious, give me proposal tomorrow. The secretary scribbled.

Eugen, who was only just climbing out of the coach with a slight limp, made his apologies for the late hour of their arrival.

There was no late here, and no early, murmured Humboldt. Here there was only work, and the work got done. Luckily it was still light. Not to move.

A policeman entered the courtyard and asked what was going on.

Later, hissed Humboldt, his lips pressed together.

This was an unauthorized gathering, said the policeman. Either everyone went their separate ways or this would become police business.

He was a chamberlain, Humboldt hissed.

Excuse me? The policeman bent forward.

Chamberlain, Humboldt’s secretary repeated. Member of the Court.

Daguerre ordered the policeman to get out of the picture.

Frowning, the policeman stepped back. First of all, anyone could claim the same thing, and secondly, the ban on gatherings applied to everyone. And that one there, pointing to Eugen, was clearly a student. Which made it particularly ticklish.

If he didn’t immediately make himself scarce, said the secretary, he would find himself in difficulties he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

This was no way to address an officer, said the policeman nervously. He would give them five minutes.

Gauss groaned and pulled himself free.

Oh no, cried Humboldt.

Daguerre stamped his foot. Now the moment had been lost forever!

Just like all the others, said Gauss calmly. Like all the others.

And indeed, when Humboldt inspected the exposed copper plate with a magnifying glass that same night, while Gauss snored so loudly in the room next door that he was audible throughout the entire apartment, he could recognize absolutely nothing on it. Only after a time did he think he saw a maze of ghostly outlines begin to emerge, the blurred sketch of something like an underwater landscape. In the middle, a hand, three shoes, a shoulder, the cuff of a uniform and the lower portion of an ear. Or then again, not? With a sigh he threw the plate out of the window and heard a dull crash as it landed in the courtyard. Seconds later, like everything else at which he had ever failed, he had forgotten it.

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Top reviews from the United States

pjburnTop Contributor: Historical Fiction Books
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss
Reviewed in the United States on May 24, 2017
. . . are both great mathematicians of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in Germany. Humboldt journeys across Europe, crosses the Atlantic to South America and maps the Orinoco River, measuring every geographical feature, and even social features, that can be measured... See more
. . . are both great mathematicians of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in Germany. Humboldt journeys across Europe, crosses the Atlantic to South America and maps the Orinoco River, measuring every geographical feature, and even social features, that can be measured or counted, making huge volumes of notes. Gauss measures the universe from his desk, but does depart to do his own measurements across Prussia and Russia. But all the math is wrapped most humorously in the astounding events and comic relationships, the contrasts and ironies surrounding their separate tales. There was a political tragedy befalling persons close to them, not to mention diseases and the stresses involved with travel and adventure in the world of 1800. Kehlmann’s sense of humor intertwines with his keen appreciation for hardship and mathematical genius throughout the narrative.
7 people found this helpful
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C. Grosse
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Measuring The World depicts fantasy world of two great 19th Century men
Reviewed in the United States on April 21, 2017
Measuring the World combines biographic material on Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Frederick Gauss in a novel of their lives and interaction together. It is translated from the original German which perhaps adds to the confused and jumbled story line and time frames.... See more
Measuring the World combines biographic material on Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Frederick Gauss in a novel of their lives and interaction together. It is translated from the original German which perhaps adds to the confused and jumbled story line and time frames. Humboldt apparently spends several years in exploring the Orinoco/Amazon basin of South America in the novel but really completed his work there in less than six months. Gauss goes from being a young mathematical and scientific genius to a plodding bureaucrat within possibly a few years in the book whereas the development covered most of his adult life. I found Measuring The World to be a fantasy of the lives of these two great men and can only wish that the author had stayed closer to the facts in constructing his historical fiction.
6 people found this helpful
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Craig B
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Thoughtful and Informative
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2019
I knew very little about Gauss and the von Humboldt brothers, so an acquaintance recommended this book. The book gives a great deal of information about the younger von Humboldt and Gauss - highlighting both the genius and less than ideal traits. The only drawback to the... See more
I knew very little about Gauss and the von Humboldt brothers, so an acquaintance recommended this book. The book gives a great deal of information about the younger von Humboldt and Gauss - highlighting both the genius and less than ideal traits. The only drawback to the book is that I will need to review history so I do not confuse the literary presentation of each life with historical fact.
2 people found this helpful
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L. Dyal
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Humorous blend, oddities of good science and human nature.
Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2017
For those of some scientific bent or even those with slight curiosity about the workings of the world about them, this book is fun from end ot end. Kehlmann''s got to be very sharp in a multitude of disciplines to portray as cleverly as he does. Oddities of nature blended... See more
For those of some scientific bent or even those with slight curiosity about the workings of the world about them, this book is fun from end ot end. Kehlmann''s got to be very sharp in a multitude of disciplines to portray as cleverly as he does. Oddities of nature blended with those of the human sort will make this book pass all too fast. Don''t feel bad though. There''s probably enough you''ll miss on the first pass to make a second just as much fun. Or, take your time and let it sink in. The water''s deeper than you think.
7 people found this helpful
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Roger Brunyate
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Recluse and the Traveler
Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2008
As others have pointed out, this is an interleaved biography of Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt, two of the greatest German men of science at the start of the nineteenth century. Despite being contemporaries, they are as different as could be in background... See more
As others have pointed out, this is an interleaved biography of Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt, two of the greatest German men of science at the start of the nineteenth century. Despite being contemporaries, they are as different as could be in background and methods: Gauss, from a modest family, is a stay-at-home thinker; the aristocratic Humboldt finds fame as a world explorer. For two-thirds of the book, Kehlmann tells their separate stories in alternating chapters. He is particularly entertaining when describing the intrepid but rather naif Humboldt, who climbs Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, and tastes curare to prove it is not poisonous when ingested, but is shocked to discover than women have body hair just like men. Kehlmann narrates all this in a deadpan style that is often very funny. He has a harder time conveying the importance of Gauss to mathematics; unlike other recent novels about mathematicians such as David Leavitt''s THE INDIAN CLERK or Yoko Ogawa''s THE HOUSEKEEPER AND THE PROFESSOR , he avoids anything technical, making it difficult to show the man as much more than a misanthrope at first. More comes through towards the end when Gauss turns his mind to more practical matters such as chemistry, physics, and technology.

Indeed, this seems to be the main thrust of the book, that Gauss becomes more practical whereas Humboldt, who started as the supreme man of action, ends virtually emasculated by his own fame. But since there is really very little to connect the two men other than the author''s demonstration of their differences, the final sections of the book, when the two men finally meet, seem narratively contrived and tail off into confusion. In some respects the novel is reminiscent of ARTHUR AND GEORGE by Julian Barnes, which also starts with two separate historical characters, and also ends in deliberate anticlimax. But whereas Barnes focuses on a real encounter that changed the lives of both protagonists, Kehlmann''s great scientists pass like ships in the night. All the same, Humboldt''s realization as he is returning from an exhausting and fruitless tour of Russia is apropos and poignant: "But as the first suburbs of Berlin flew past and Humboldt imagined Gauss at that very moment staring through his telescope at heavenly bodies, whose paths he could sum up in simple formulas, all of a sudden he could no longer have said which of them had traveled afar and which of them had always stayed at home."

Over and above the story of these two men, the book offers a fascinating glimpse of the intellectual climate in Germany in the early 1800s, an interesting pendant to the more delicate portrait of early German romanticism painted by Penelope Fitzgerald in THE BLUE FLOWER , her novel about the poet Novalis.
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Heather A. Cross
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Didn''t draw me in...
Reviewed in the United States on December 8, 2016
Just didn''t read well as dialogue or plot. I had expected more from summary and reviews. Perhaps it is the translation, but I never felt like I was "in the time" or cared about the characters.
10 people found this helpful
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PS
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful!
Reviewed in the United States on September 29, 2015
A delightfully funny book. I wish I could read it in the German. There is a dry sense of humor that runs through the prose. This is the German ode to Gabriel Garcia Marquez'' 100 Years of Solitude. It has the same madness but coupled with a maddening but lovable German love... See more
A delightfully funny book. I wish I could read it in the German. There is a dry sense of humor that runs through the prose. This is the German ode to Gabriel Garcia Marquez'' 100 Years of Solitude. It has the same madness but coupled with a maddening but lovable German love of precision and accuracy and a fanatic scientific curiosity about the world.
10 people found this helpful
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Paul Shipman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant, poetic, funny, stirring.
Reviewed in the United States on June 6, 2021
Kehlmann rendersHumboldtas as completely human and inhumanly intelligent. His experiences, his connections to historical figures, and his relationships with other great thinkers of his time are so approachable. This mathophoband non- scientist was totally absorbed from the... See more
Kehlmann rendersHumboldtas as completely human and inhumanly intelligent. His experiences, his connections to historical figures, and his relationships with other great thinkers of his time are so approachable. This mathophoband non- scientist was totally absorbed from the first to the last word.
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Top reviews from other countries

Bobbie
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Start with chapter 2 and read it aloud - it will hook you.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 5, 2017
The life stories of two late-18th-century, eccentric-genius scientists dramatised as a novel: Alexander von Humboldt, explorer, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, astronomer and mathematician. At first I didn’t take to it. Though plainly witty and interesting, it was flowing past...See more
The life stories of two late-18th-century, eccentric-genius scientists dramatised as a novel: Alexander von Humboldt, explorer, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, astronomer and mathematician. At first I didn’t take to it. Though plainly witty and interesting, it was flowing past me, just one thing after another. But then I tried reading it aloud and became much more involved with the characters and entertained by the wry, throwaway humour. So all in all, great fun and fascinating, lots to enjoy, and with something to say about the human condition. Three minor quibbles. The lack of speech quotation marks. The ‘he’s and ‘him’s I had to pause to attribute. And the first chapter, which would have worked much better coming in its chronological order in the narrative. My advice is start with chapter 2 and read chapter 1 after the one called ‘The Capital’.
3 people found this helpful
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Simon Bartlett
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A fascinating tale, gorgeously told
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 15, 2021
A wonderful novel of mans powers of exploration. Beautifully contrasting the two lead characters of the widely travelling explorer recording so much of the works that he sees with the stay at home who explores the structure of the universe from his home. But it is so much...See more
A wonderful novel of mans powers of exploration. Beautifully contrasting the two lead characters of the widely travelling explorer recording so much of the works that he sees with the stay at home who explores the structure of the universe from his home. But it is so much more - a tale of aging, of loneliness, of abandonment. I also heatily recommend Kehlmsns recent novel Tyll
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Didier
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Delightful book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 23, 2009
What is there still left to measure in the world today? Precious little, one might argue, except for things of infinitisemal size. How different the world must have seemed in the early 18th century, when the principles of Enlightenment were at their peak, and large parts of...See more
What is there still left to measure in the world today? Precious little, one might argue, except for things of infinitisemal size. How different the world must have seemed in the early 18th century, when the principles of Enlightenment were at their peak, and large parts of the map of the world were still black. European scientist had an almost unbound belief in the possibilities of scientific research, and there was plenty to research! ''Measuring the world'' captures this era in a beautiful manner, by contrasting two of its giants: the explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859) and the mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855). In many ways, two people couldn''t be further apart: Gauss was a child prodigy of humble birth (his father wanted him to become a mason as he himself was), Humboldt the younger of two sons in a prominent Pomeranian family (his father was a major in the Prussian army). Gauss was by all accounts a difficult man to live with: a perfectionist, having difficulties establishing relations with other people (including his own children), impatient and restless. By contrast, Humboldt was ever sociable and friendly, the epitome of the gentleman-explorer, used to moving in the highest circles. Humboldt traversed the globe, Gauss explored the world (the universe rather) sitting behind his desk... And yet, in a bizarre way, as Kehlmann demonstrates in this splendid book, both men (or rather: his fictionalized versions of them) are as different sides of the same coin, and are ultimately ''mere men'', as we all are. Ambitious and confident as they may be when young and in the prime of their lives, and there hardly seemed to be limits to what they could do and achieve, as they grow older (and more and more lonely) they are confronted with the same ruminations, doubts and regrets we probably all are: did I make a difference? Have I done right by my children? Should I have been more caring towards my wife? You''ve probably guessed by now that I enjoyed this book a lot. It''s insightful, full of (dry) humour and irony, and utterly charming. Splendid!
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manosque
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A fascinating story of two extraordinary men.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 7, 2012
I find that with many books in which their are separate plot lines running in parallel I tend to find one more interesting than the other so that I am disappointed when at chapter end the author switches back to the less engaging one and I am left impatient to get back to...See more
I find that with many books in which their are separate plot lines running in parallel I tend to find one more interesting than the other so that I am disappointed when at chapter end the author switches back to the less engaging one and I am left impatient to get back to the first. For the majority of this novel that is the structure but the excellence of Mr.Kehlmann''s work is such that I became totally involved in both character''s stories and there was a pang of regret whenever he chose to switch themes. When the principals are intereacting there is an edgy, almost surreal, ''odd couple'' relationship between them which is equally fascinating. Added to all this is a fair smattering of layman''s level mathematics and natural history to keep you thinking and it all adds up to a totally absorbing portrait of two scientists during the Enlightenment.Highly recommended.
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent historical recreation
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 14, 2012
This is a book about "parallel lives": a man who never went very far from home and a man who travelled far and wide. Both made astonishing discoveries, that helped shape our world and views. This book also deals with those very exciting times wheh a man of means could...See more
This is a book about "parallel lives": a man who never went very far from home and a man who travelled far and wide. Both made astonishing discoveries, that helped shape our world and views. This book also deals with those very exciting times wheh a man of means could travel the world and discover for the Europeans those corners of Earth that were still hidden. That was Humboldt''s case. Appart from that, he was gifted with an iron determination and faith in himself. On the other hand, stands a Genious, Gauss, prince of Matemathicians, who turned Maths upside down when hardly twenty, and went on working on other projects: probability, magnetism, languaje, etc. The author makes their scientific enterprises the landscape for their developement as persons, a setting in which we can understand them better as men, with their whims, wishes, prejudices, miseries, intuition, inspiration, genius ... Their society was very different from ours: stamental, rigid, surveiled... many things we take for granted, like freedom of speech, independent pursuits, free research were not casual, were sometimes only tolerated. This book is a good primer to historical novels, and a good kit-kat for those scientists and interested in science. Good buy.
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