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

by Ken Alder | Science |
ISBN: 074321675x Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingKateKintailwing of Burke, Virginia USA on 5/15/2009
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4 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingKateKintailwing from Burke, Virginia USA on Friday, May 15, 2009
Bought this at a library used book sale.

This is the sort of book I am always so eager to read but that I never actually pick up because other things come first. But after reading the description on the back, it seems really interesting and I was eager to give this one a try!

I earread a copy of this on cassette tapes. This is what I had to say:

There were parts that were really very dry, even for me. There were some fascinating revelations. And there were some parts that were just simple tellings of what had gone on. The basic outline of the book is exploring the Meridian project undertaken by several geodyssers that would measure the length of the portion of a meridian running through France and use that to fashion a new standard measurement of the meter. Since the meter would be based on the earth, it would be a measure free of civilizations/societies/outside forces; it would be as impartial and logical a scientific measurement as could be had. The problem was, man and society got in the way constantly while trying to calculate what it should be. There were wars, political upheaval, resistance, and human emotion all thrown into the mix. The story was all right for what it was but got a lot better when the "lead" geodysser discovered a discrepancy in his measurements that he could not correct. The results were incredible to read about. I'm fascinated by the little twists and turns throughout, their struggles and conflicts, though the writing made some of it sound boring at times. Perhaps it's because it's an abridgment? At any rate, it did get better about halfway through and then steadily onwards from there to the end. I'm very glad I stuck with it and finished it.

The thing I don't really understand, though, is in one sentence the narrator would tell us that everyone abandoned the metric system's use of prefixes (centi-, milli-, kilo-, etc.) and then, two or three statements later, he'd talk about how everyone was on board with it. Or he would explain how the meter was based on something other than the calculations, then go on a minute later to talk about how bad one of them felt to have the meter based on their calculations. I was utterly confused. Perhaps the abridgment is to blame there as well?

The history behind the science was interesting to learn about, but it was the people I really cared about and liked hearing about. And the themes behind it all came through very nicely through the telling. That really made it worth the read for me.

Journal Entry 2 by wingKateKintailwing at Baltimore, Maryland USA on Saturday, May 16, 2009

Released 12 yrs ago (5/17/2009 UTC) at Baltimore, Maryland USA



Taking this to a BookCrossing meetup tomorrow. I hope it finds a good home!

Journal Entry 3 by wingmaryzeewing from Taneytown, Maryland USA on Sunday, May 17, 2009
Giving this one a good home for a bit. I enjoy "biographies of things" and this one looks like a likely candidate. I have a few other books along that vein; perhaps after I've read it, I'll make another attempt at a bookbox with these types of books.

Thanks Kate.

Journal Entry 4 by wingmaryzeewing at Taneytown, Maryland USA on Thursday, February 09, 2012
Lots of interesting history here (during and after the French Revolution), along with some science (fortunately, the science is not daunting). Kate's given a good review above. I found this book a bit of a challenge to read, but not overwhelming. I'd read Simon Schama's book Citizens a few years ago, a massive read about the French Revolution, which provided a good background. I found the parts about the inconsistencies of previous measurement units from various regions, and about establishing a consistent system of weights and measurements to be very interesting; I think that's something we seldom think about now. I also found the parts of the book about the explanation of the error and the modern methods of statistical error handling to be interesting - this was also something I'd never thought of before, but being something of a math geek I thought it was an interesting aspect.

Thanks for sharing this book, Kate. This will soon be traveling in my "Biographies of Things" bookbox. Hope it finds another reader soon!

Journal Entry 5 by wingmaryzeewing at Biographies of Things, A Bookbox -- Controlled Releases on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Released 9 yrs ago (2/13/2012 UTC) at Biographies of Things, A Bookbox -- Controlled Releases


Sending out in my Biographies of Things bookbox. Enjoy!

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Journal Entry 6 by weiterferne at Houston, Texas USA on Friday, February 24, 2012
Curious about this one - so I'm removing it from the book box.

Journal Entry 7 by weiterferne at Houston, Texas USA on Saturday, January 11, 2014
I had no idea about the meter. I just had thought they picked something to unify. But know it had to be related to the length of a longitude circle. And it took years and lot of work to (And then we still have miles and meters and the book explains that too).

Fascinating story, even though the read was lengthy at times.

Journal Entry 8 by wingAnonymousFinderwing at Houston, Texas USA on Thursday, February 22, 2018
Good read to understand the effort scientist went through to determine the length of a meter. It also tells a good story about the politics involved.

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