Tuesday 21 March 2023

Measuring the World

Finished March 20
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Brown Janeway

This novel focuses on real historical figures from the late eighteenth /early nineteenth centuries, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. Humboldt collaborated with another scientist, Bonpland, and spent more than five years in Central and South America, gathering plant samples, examining the fauna, following rivers to find where they met, and climbing mountains including several volcanoes. Humboldt's interest in science expanded to include meteorology, magnetism, ocean currents and astronomy. 
Gauss was a mathematician and physicist, a child prodigy who preferred a quiet life delving deeper into the science that he loved, was deeply affected by the loss of his first wife. His discoveries formed the basis for the work of other scientists as well. 
The two men, Humboldt and Gauss, did meet, but this book is a fictionalized account of both their lives, their interactions and correspondence and their scientific interests and achievements. 
Kehlmann brings the men to life, with complex personalities, individual quirks, and sometimes strange behaviour. This book has touches of humour, fantasy, and emotion. Enlightening and revealing. 

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