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The Measure Of All Things: The Seven Year Odyssey That Transformed the World

Ken Alder

2 Reviews

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Prose: non-fiction, History, History of science

The revolutionary adventures of two scientists who inaugurated the metric system.

Winner of the 2003 Dingle Prize for the best book on the history of science.

THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS tells the story of how science, revolutionary politics, and the dream of a new economy converged to produce both the metric system and the first struggle over globalization.
Amidst the scientific fervor of the Revolution two French scientists, Delambre and Mechain, were sent out on an expedition to measure the shape of the world and thereby establish the metre (which was to be one ten-millionth the distance from pole to equator). Their hope was that people would use the globe as the basis of measure rather than an arbitrary system meted out by the monarchs. As one scientist went north along the French meridian and the other south, their experiences diverged just as radically. After seven years, they received a hero's welcome upon their return to Paris. Mechain, however, was obsessed over a minute error in his calculations that he'd discovered and concealed, and which eventually drove him to his grave. His death forced his colleague Delambre to choose between loyalty to his friend and his science.

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Praise for The Measure Of All Things: The Seven Year Odyssey That Transformed the World

  • all the pace and plot of a historical adventure novel, as though Longitude had been crossed with A Tale of Two Cities, with a measure of Don Quixote thrown in - The Sunday TIMES

  • riveting account of the origins of the metric system... an eye-opener - The DAILY TELEGRAPH

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Ken Alder

Ken Alder has a PhD from Harvard in History of Science as well as a Physics degree. In 1998 he won the Dexter Prize for the best book on the history of technology.

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