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

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Simon and Schuster, Jul 29, 2014 - History - 432 pages
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 of the metric system lies a secret error, one that is perpetuated in every subsequent definition of the meter. As acclaimed historian and novelist Ken Alder discovered through his research, there were only two people on the planet who knew the full extent of this error: Delambre and Méchain themselves.

By turns a science history, detective tale, and human drama, The Measure of All Things describes a quest that succeeded as it failed—and continues to enlighten and inspire to this day.

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User Review  - melydia -

This is the true story of two French scientists who triangulated their way up and down the meridian crossing France - during the French Revolution, no less - in order to determine a precise length for ... Read full review

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User Review  - SeriousGrace - LibraryThing

While the French Revolution raged around them, the Royal Academy of Sciences had a plan - to measure the circumference of the world and they knew just the two scientists (astronomers also known as ... Read full review


Map of France
The NorthGoing Astronomer
The SouthGoing Astronomer
The Metric of Revolution
The Castle of MontJouy
A Calculating People
Fear of France
The Empire of Science
The Broken
Méchains Mistake Delambres Peace
The Metered Globe
Note on Measures
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2014)

Ken Alder is a professor of history and Milton H. Wilson Professor of the Humanities at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Measure of All Things, published to worldwide acclaim in fourteen languages. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

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