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The young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann conjures a brilliant and gently comic novel from the lives of two geniuses of the Enlightenment. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the hi The young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann conjures a brilliant and gently comic novel from the lives of two geniuses of the Enlightenment. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the highest mountain known to man, counts head lice, and explores every hole in the ground. The other, the barely socialized mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss, does not even need to leave his home in Göttingen to prove that space is curved. He can run prime numbers in his head. He cannot imagine a life without women, yet he jumps out of bed on his wedding night to jot down a mathematical formula. Von Humboldt is known to history as the Second Columbus. Gauss is recognized as the greatest mathematical brain since Newton. Terrifyingly famous and more than eccentric in their old age, the two meet in Berlin in 1828. Gauss has hardly climbed out of his carriage before both men are embroiled in the political turmoil sweeping through Germany after Napoleon’s fall. Already a huge best seller in Germany, Measuring the World marks the debut of a glorious new talent on the international scene.


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The young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann conjures a brilliant and gently comic novel from the lives of two geniuses of the Enlightenment. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the hi The young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann conjures a brilliant and gently comic novel from the lives of two geniuses of the Enlightenment. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the highest mountain known to man, counts head lice, and explores every hole in the ground. The other, the barely socialized mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss, does not even need to leave his home in Göttingen to prove that space is curved. He can run prime numbers in his head. He cannot imagine a life without women, yet he jumps out of bed on his wedding night to jot down a mathematical formula. Von Humboldt is known to history as the Second Columbus. Gauss is recognized as the greatest mathematical brain since Newton. Terrifyingly famous and more than eccentric in their old age, the two meet in Berlin in 1828. Gauss has hardly climbed out of his carriage before both men are embroiled in the political turmoil sweeping through Germany after Napoleon’s fall. Already a huge best seller in Germany, Measuring the World marks the debut of a glorious new talent on the international scene.

30 review for Measuring the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Die Vermessung der Welt = Measuring the World, Daniel Kehlmann Measuring the World is a novel by German author Daniel Kehlmann, 2005 published by Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek. The novel re-imagines the lives of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and German geographer Alexander von Humboldt —who was accompanied on his journeys by Aime Bonpland— and their many groundbreaking ways of taking the world's measure, as well as Humboldt's and Bonpland's travels in America and their meeting in 1828. One Die Vermessung der Welt = Measuring the World, Daniel Kehlmann Measuring the World is a novel by German author Daniel Kehlmann, 2005 published by Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek. The novel re-imagines the lives of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and German geographer Alexander von Humboldt —who was accompanied on his journeys by Aime Bonpland— and their many groundbreaking ways of taking the world's measure, as well as Humboldt's and Bonpland's travels in America and their meeting in 1828. One subplot fictionalizes the conflict between Gauss and his son Eugene; while Eugene wanted to become a linguist, his father decreed that he study law. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سی ام ماه جولای سال 2012میلادی عنوان: اندازه‌ گیری دنیا ؛ نویسنده: دانیل کلمان؛ مترجم: ناتالی چوبینه؛ تهران، افق، 1390؛ در 367ص؛ شابک 9789643697587؛ چاپ سوم 1394؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان آلمانی - سده 21م اندازه‌ گیری دنیا ؛ نام رمانی است، که توسط نویسنده ی آلمانی «دانیل کلمان»، در سال 2005میلادی منتشر شده است؛ این رمان نتیجه ی دیدار سال 1828میلادی، بین ریاضیدان «آلمانی»: «کارل فریدریش گاوس»؛ و «الکساندر فون هومبولت»، است، که در سفرهای خویش همراه با «آیم بن‌ پلان» در آمریکا را، شرح می‌دهد؛ یکی از داستان‌های فرعی کتاب، درگیری بین «گاوس»، و پسرش «اُیگن» است؛ «اُیگن» می‌خواهد زبان‌شناس شود، اما پدرش میخواهد، که او حقوق بخواند تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 21/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  2. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Gene(ius) Pool In the early 19th century Germany ruled the intellectual world. Or more accurately, given that Germany didn’t yet exist, German was the globally dominant language of science, philosophy, and most other cultural pursuits. Measuring the World is a light-hearted docudrama of the intersecting life of two of the most important intellectual leaders of the period: The explorer and naturalist (and Prussian) Alexander von Humboldt, and the mathematical prodigy Carl Friedrich Gauss ( The Gene(ius) Pool In the early 19th century Germany ruled the intellectual world. Or more accurately, given that Germany didn’t yet exist, German was the globally dominant language of science, philosophy, and most other cultural pursuits. Measuring the World is a light-hearted docudrama of the intersecting life of two of the most important intellectual leaders of the period: The explorer and naturalist (and Prussian) Alexander von Humboldt, and the mathematical prodigy Carl Friedrich Gauss (an Hanoverian). Together they transformed human understanding of both things and symbols, as well as the connection between things and symbols. That is to say, they created a new language. The backgrounds of these two men show that genius is purely genetic. Humboldt was a member of a well-fed, well-educated, and well-connected elite. Gauss’s mother, on the other hand, was illiterate and his father was a labourer. Humboldt survived a young brother who tried to kill him, and being raised by the servants. Gauss survived the persecution of jealous teachers and a social awkwardness verging on the autistic. Both thrived because they were recognised and rewarded by monarchical rulers as contributing to German culture. One wonders what their fates might have been in the competitive academic milieu of a modern pragmatic democracy. Above all two traits/principles/character flaws unite these two men. First, for them everything is connected to everything else. Distinctions between areas of knowledge are not simply arbitrary, they are irrelevant. Both defy classification into a definite academic niche. They are quite simply interested in everything that is, a sort of openness which is astounding in its apparent lack of limits. If they had taken up painting, they would be considered today greater than Michelangelo (thus the power of visual advertising!) Second, both shared a passion for numbers. Numbers are what brought reality closer. They reduced the gap between what Kant (yes, another German) had called the thing-in-itself and our perception of it. Measurement was philosophy in action. Increasing precision in measurement meant progress, an improvement in understanding that was demonstrable. Numbers, as the ancient Greeks suggested, provided a sort of divine view of the world. Numbers were fixed in their relations to each other, unlike natural language which was fuzzy and required less than perfect translation out of the mother-tongue into barbaric dialects like English and French. What the two men did was to create a new cultural era. Measurement was a metaphor for hope. Kant’s aporias didn’t imply an intellectual dead end. And hadn’t he put religion aside into a parallel world that seemed increasingly unnecessary? Numbers could improve the world not just describe it. Numbers formed the new foundation for human salvation. They were almost magical in their power to reveal and explain how the world came to be, to simplify its apparent complexity, and to predict its further development. Numbers were the future. Numbers touched reality:“At the base of physics were rules, at the base of rules there were laws, at the base of laws there were numbers; if one looked at them intently, one could recognize relationships between them, repulsions or attractions.” The patterns revealed by numbers allowed the telling of stories which had never been told before. Stories of intense heat in the Earth, of antiquities older than ever before dreamed of, stories of parallel lines that meet, of bizarre celestial phenomena. The language of numbers wasn’t just more reliable than any other language, it was bigger. It permitted discussion of things no other languages knew about. It pointed to things that were hidden in normal speech. It resolved paradoxes and suggested previously unthought possibilities. The world got used to being measured. The web of numbers imposed itself upon the world so thoroughly that it was taken as the world. This is what all languages do, and perhaps the language of numbers best of all. Human beings engage in this fantasy of language as reality in order to maintain hope or, more generally, to stay sane. Faith in measurement is even more intense than faith in God. As it turns out the object of the two faiths is exactly the same: language. Language is our fundamental technology and we worship it. Today, we have a new language - digital electronics - in which we have as deep a faith as Humboldt and Gauss had in theirs. Genius, it seems, even exceptional German genius is not immune to the temptation of idolatry.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    "I want to explore the world!" That is a quite common answer if you ask a group of motivated preteen students what they want to do when they grow up. Hungry little caterpillars, they eat their way through a mixed diet of knowledge and skills over the course of their education before entering the strange teenage cocoon stage when they can't be bothered with anything but their own physical and social development. As a teacher, you look at all these potential explorers, and their diverse approaches "I want to explore the world!" That is a quite common answer if you ask a group of motivated preteen students what they want to do when they grow up. Hungry little caterpillars, they eat their way through a mixed diet of knowledge and skills over the course of their education before entering the strange teenage cocoon stage when they can't be bothered with anything but their own physical and social development. As a teacher, you look at all these potential explorers, and their diverse approaches to life, and to learning and interpretation of reality, and you think: "I have no doubt that they will explore the world, but what EXACTLY that will mean, nobody can tell until they are fully developed butterflies, with their own individual patterns and flight routes!" That is the core of the story Kehlmann tells, by using the examples of two famous adventurers of the Enlightenment. You can sit in your room and explore the abstract world of mathematics in your own isolated brain, like Gauss, or you can climb mountains, swim through rivers, march through swamps, and collect physical evidence of your journey, like Alexander von Humboldt. Either way, you will be exploring the world, according to your needs, your history, your education and your personality. Genius has many shapes, and expresses itself in various ways, is the optimistic message (a life-saving one for teachers who work with the post-caterpillar, pre-butterfly cocoon-stage). Geniuses are humans with specific talents and difficulties, and their own issues, is the realistic conclusion, and all it takes to cross the line between ordinary talent and genius may be a stubborn curious desire to move on towards an ever changing horizon. Geniuses achieve great things with ordinary bodies and minds, and extraordinary belief in the possibilities of the world. Geniuses can be grumpy and worried and arrogant and absent-minded and just plain funny, they come in all colours and shapes. What do they have in common? They use their wings!

  4. 4 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    "It was both odd and injust, 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-a-vis the future." I'm not sure what to make of this one: I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. It certainly was not what I expected. I do admire Kehlmann for trying a different angle on a historical novel about two eminent characters "It was both odd and injust, 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-a-vis the future." I'm not sure what to make of this one: I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. It certainly was not what I expected. I do admire Kehlmann for trying a different angle on a historical novel about two eminent characters in their own time. The novel style and focus on what basically is a sequence of vignettes work well to bring out the character in Kehlmann's two subjects - Humboldt and Gauss. However, this is at the expense of any historical facts (other than that the two people existed): There is one (or maybe two) references to dates in this book, and I felt this was only to give the reader a timeframe to anchor the story in. Other than this, there are very few facts in this story that could be referenced back to anything. Yet, this is not due to a lack of research on the part of the author. To draw a picture of both characters in as much detail as he does would have required a lot of research. The book just does not bring this across which makes this more a novel that featured two characters with the names of actual people and some enterprises these people may have set out to, but little else makes this book feel like a historical novel. And this is where my problem is again: If I want to read about actual people, I want facts, I want references, I want to be able to go away and read more about something they did. I do not want speculation about what they have thought or felt, or whether their brother tried to kill them when they were little. Unless I can go away and find other supporting material about any of this, I am simply not interested. The upside to the book was that there was no love triangle, which so often spoils historical fiction books. 2.5*

  5. 5 out of 5

    JimZ

    This novel was very popular in Germany when it came out (titled Die Vermessung der Welt) and it along with another book he wrote in 2003, Ich und Kaminski [Me and Kaminski], won the Kleist Prize for literature in 2006. This is the second book I have tried by this author, and I gave Fame a ‘solid’ 3 stars. This one was a tough one to get through…I was waiting for it to finally get over which is a not a good sign. 2 stars. ☹ How does one credibly review a book when one reads this on Wikipedia: His This novel was very popular in Germany when it came out (titled Die Vermessung der Welt) and it along with another book he wrote in 2003, Ich und Kaminski [Me and Kaminski], won the Kleist Prize for literature in 2006. This is the second book I have tried by this author, and I gave Fame a ‘solid’ 3 stars. This one was a tough one to get through…I was waiting for it to finally get over which is a not a good sign. 2 stars. ☹ How does one credibly review a book when one reads this on Wikipedia: His novel Die Vermessung der Welt (translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway as Measuring the World, 2006) is the best-selling book in the German language since Patrick Süskind's Perfume was released in 1985. According to The New York Times, it was the world's second best-selling novel in 2006. What the hell is wrong with me?! In this book the lives of two famous German people are depicted: Dr. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the world famous mathematician/physicist. We are told their life stories in the third person. Later on in the novel they meet. As far as I can tell this is not a work of historical fiction, although from briefly looking at Wikipedia certainly their professional actions are duly noted and described in the book. It is Kehlmann’s depiction of their personal lives and those they interacted with I did not like. Two examples then I will gracefully leave: • Jim: Humboldt is exploring in Venezuela and came across a mission (I guess a missionary living with the natives)… “The inhabitants of the mission were turning spits over a fire with the head of a child, three tiny hands, and four little feet with what were clearly toes. Not human, explained the missionary. They stopped whatever they could. Just little monkeys from the forest. Bonpland refused to eat any. Humboldt hesitated, but took a hand and bit into it. It didn’t taste bad but he didn’t feel well. Would people be offended of he didn’t eat it all? The missionary shook his head, mouth full. Nobody would notice!” Later that evening ensues a conversation between Kehlmann and his fellow explorers debating over whether what they were eating was human flesh. The way Kehlmann presented the dialog was in a comical sort of way. I was just grossed out. One, if cannibalism had taken place, I know nothing about why cannibalism occurs…how the practice originated, why it occurs….but I don’t find it to be a laughing matter. Cannibalism occurs/occurred — don’t portray it as funny and don’t put it on the shoulders of the “natives”. • One of Humboldt’s fellow explorers has sex with a chieftain’s daughter. Humboldt and his fellow explorers just came upon this group of people that same day. Was the sex consensual? Am I supposed to find this also cute or humorous…I know these kind of events occurred and how explorers sometimes treated those they came upon…but the way Kehlmann presented it just disturbed me. His style of writing was not dark in this novel…it was supposed to be witty…so coming across this and the way he presented it just bothered me. ...And this was less than halfway through the book. The putative cannibalism was less than halfway through the book. So these two events really disturbed me and I still had over half of a book to go through. And one of the protagonists, Gauss, was a prick…after his wife died in childbirth within that hour he was literally thinking about finding another wife (“He pushed back the chair and tried to accustom himself to the thought that he would have to marry again. He had children. He had no idea how one brought them up. He couldn’t run a household. Servants cost money"). So there. I have vented my spleen. 😕 Note: this is the fifth book I have read that has been translated by Carol Brown Janeway. Wow, she was an impressive translator!!! 😊 She translated the following: • My Prizes, by Thomas Bernhard • The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink • Embers, by Sándor Márai • Crime, by Ferdinand von Schirach • Guilt, by Ferdinand von Schirach • Measuring the World, by Daniel Kehlmann • Fragments. Memories of a Wartime Childhood, by Binjamin Wilkomirski From Yiddish[edit] • Yosl Rakover Talks to God, by Zvi Kolitz. From Dutch[edit] • The Storm, by Margriet de Moor From French[edit] • Desolation, by Yasmina Reza Reviews of Measuring the World • https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/05/bo... • https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... • from a blog site: http://dannyreviews.com/h/Measuring_W...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stef Smulders

    Don't like this book. The characters of the historical figures of Gauss and Von Humboldt are flat, like in a graphic novel. As a result it is even difficult to keep the two apart. I do not see the sense of using real people in a novel if you do not try to develop their psychology, not try to understand their motives, doubts, struggles. In this novel it remains superficial. There is some humor, yes, but again, what is this book meant to be? A satire? Of what? As a historical novel I cannot take i Don't like this book. The characters of the historical figures of Gauss and Von Humboldt are flat, like in a graphic novel. As a result it is even difficult to keep the two apart. I do not see the sense of using real people in a novel if you do not try to develop their psychology, not try to understand their motives, doubts, struggles. In this novel it remains superficial. There is some humor, yes, but again, what is this book meant to be? A satire? Of what? As a historical novel I cannot take it seriously.

  7. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    Fascinating read. A scientific historical novel (first published in 2005) originally written in German by young author, Daniel Kehlmann (born 1975). It is said to be the worldwide bestselling German novel since Patrick Suskind's Perfume in 1985. This is a story of a two scientists during the time of Napoleon reign in Europe. The first scientist is Alexander von Humboldt who is a botanist, geologist and an explorer. He has an elder brother Wilhelm von Humboldt who lives a "normal" life, i.e., stu Fascinating read. A scientific historical novel (first published in 2005) originally written in German by young author, Daniel Kehlmann (born 1975). It is said to be the worldwide bestselling German novel since Patrick Suskind's Perfume in 1985. This is a story of a two scientists during the time of Napoleon reign in Europe. The first scientist is Alexander von Humboldt who is a botanist, geologist and an explorer. He has an elder brother Wilhelm von Humboldt who lives a "normal" life, i.e., study, work, marry, raise a family and die while Humboldt pursues his dream of proving the scientific theory called "Neptunism" or the belief that the core of the earth is solid rock. That mountain ranges are created by the chemical precipitations left as the primordial ocean shrinks. That the fire in volcanoes doesn't come from deep in the earth but is fed by burning coalfields. This theory was championed by both churches and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. (Remember that this was during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821 and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who was a German writer and polymath, 1749-1832. By the way, as this is a historical scientific novel, both the Humboldt brothers were also real German famous personalities) The second scientist is Carl Friedrich Gauss who is a mathematician and scientist. He is also the author of the book Disquisitiones which deals with the number consolidating theory that shaped several mathematical theories known today. He is a boy genius in mathematics. I particularly enjoyed the classroom scene when his "terror" butt-spanking teacher asks him to add all the numbers from 1 to 100 thinking that the young Gauss will manually write and add all the numbers from 1 to 100. What he does, to the astonishment of the said teacher, is that he starts with a hundred and one. A hundred plus one equals a hundred and one. Ninety-nine plus two equals a hundred and one. Always a hundred and one. Ninety-eight plus three equals a hundred and one. You could do that fifty times. So, fifty times a hundred and one." Answer: five thousand and fifty! Unlike Humboldt, Gauss has a family, he got married twice and has 6 children. One of his children, his son Eugen, is one of the main characters in the novel. He feels unloved because Gauss is disappointed that they do not share the same interest. Gauss is a genius while his son Eugen has an average intellect. The novel is divided into several chapters with the life and times of Gauss and Humboldt alternating until the fifth to the last chapter when they meet. The novel shows what scientist in the 18th century go through (almost spending their whole life and even their family and social life) to pursue their careers and academic passions. The book is full of anecdotes and scientific theories and explanations that Kehlmann was able to tell in a light and even funny way. Something that only gifted storytellers can successfully pull off. My favorite quote comes at the last part of the story when Humboldt was in his "sunset" year as a scientist and his sister-in-law, the wife of his elder brother died. This is part of his speech prior to visiting the deathbed: What, ladies and gentlemen, is death? Fundamentally it is not extinction and those seconds when life ends, but the slow decline that precedes it, that creeping debility that extends over years: the time in which a person is still there and yet not there, in which he can still imagine that although his prime is long since past, it lingers yet. So circumspectly, ladies and gentlemen, has nature organized our death!" In the same chapter, Gauss receives a letter from his elder brother (remember that they are both old and gray already). This is after the funeral and the elder Humboldt is thanking him for his visit and support during the death of his wife. Part of the letter is this: Whether we see each other again or not, now once more, it is just we two, as it always was fundamentally. We were inculcated early with the lesson that life requires an audience. We both believed that the whole world was ours. Little by little the circles became smaller, and we were forced to realize that the actual goal of all our efforts was not the cosmos but merely each other. Because of you I wanted to become a minister, because of me you had to conquer the highest mountain and the deepest caverns, for you I founded the greatest university, for me you discovered South America, and only fools who fail to understand the significance of a single life in double form would describe this as a rivalry..." For me, the message of the novel is how we will be "measured" in terms of how we lived our lives at the end of our stay in this world. More than financial wealth and highest position we reach in our careers, it is how we loved and how we were loved back by those who we shared our lives with. Also posted in here.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Oceana2602

    Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World was one of my birthday presents last year, and I waited almost a year to finally read it. Even though it had been on my wishlist, when it suddenly sat there on my shelf, the idea of reading about pre-industrialization Germany, about Humboldt and Gauß, two boring old scientist, seemed rather dreadful. I should have known better. Measuring the World is not a science book. It's not about two boring old men either, though it is about two old scientist. And the wa Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World was one of my birthday presents last year, and I waited almost a year to finally read it. Even though it had been on my wishlist, when it suddenly sat there on my shelf, the idea of reading about pre-industrialization Germany, about Humboldt and Gauß, two boring old scientist, seemed rather dreadful. I should have known better. Measuring the World is not a science book. It's not about two boring old men either, though it is about two old scientist. And the way Kehlmann describes them, you feel as if you had known them forever from the first moment. Humboldt's enthusiam, his absolute NEED to measure things, to experience, not to miss anything no matter at what cost, is as palpable as Gauß's displeasure at traveling, a cranky old geezer is, I think, what one would call him (or "ein griesgrämiger alter Kauz"). Kehlmann makes both of them exceptionally human, with all the flaws, and at the same time manages to describe their genius without forcing it on the reader. Their stories become cleverly interwoven and mixed up with Kehlmann's excellent dialogues. The book captivated me and made me laugh out loud more than once. Historical or scientific value or accuracy may have been sacrificed for entertainment in many cases, but that seems only fitting in the time we live. ;-) P.S.: I read the original German version, so I don't know if the English translation is any good. I'd be interested in opinions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    I just wanted to take a short break from two extremely serious and depressing books I'm reading at the moment and thought that plunging into the worlds of two geniuses would be perfect. Re-reading this novel is as fascinating as it was while reading it for the first time. I just wanted to take a short break from two extremely serious and depressing books I'm reading at the moment and thought that plunging into the worlds of two geniuses would be perfect. Re-reading this novel is as fascinating as it was while reading it for the first time.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    Fictional account of the lives and meeting (towards the end of their lives at a scientific congress that Humboldt holds) of two great German scientists – the naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (whose brother was also a great politician and linguist) – who explored and opened up and the mathematician and physicist Gauss. The translated English is written in a simple and slightly stilting style but is easy to read and the range of ideas and concepts covered is what makes the book. As Fictional account of the lives and meeting (towards the end of their lives at a scientific congress that Humboldt holds) of two great German scientists – the naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (whose brother was also a great politician and linguist) – who explored and opened up and the mathematician and physicist Gauss. The translated English is written in a simple and slightly stilting style but is easy to read and the range of ideas and concepts covered is what makes the book. As the title suggests both are obsessed with measurement – but whereas Humboldt travels far and wide and seems to believe that the world is better understood by discovery, measurement, reporting and charting; Gauss in contrast resents the time he has to spend as a surveyor (although approaching the task with drive and mathematical rigour) and is more interested in the insights it gives him into mathematical reality – e.g. the concept that parallel lines meet in infinity and that space and time are curved. The book is also set against the background of brewing political rebellion in Germany in the mid-1800’s with both scientists not just revolutionary thinkers in their scientific thinking but both also magnificently unaware of what is going on around them – from mundane concerns to wider geo-political events such as the Napoleonic wars. Humboldt’s travels to the Americas allows Kehlmann to integrate high science and German culture with magic realism – with Humboldt still persistently seeking to explain, assess and categorise even in bizarre and surreal surroundings.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shovelmonkey1

    So 200 years ago the world was a pretty big place. Not any bigger than it is now but it had the feel of a larger ball of rock as many humans were still scrambling about "discovering" places. Note - most of these places had already been discovered by the people who lived in them. They just didn't shout about it in quite the same way. It is also interesting to note that the people doing the scrambling about were, for the most part, European. Is this because all Europe-ers are massive nosy bastards So 200 years ago the world was a pretty big place. Not any bigger than it is now but it had the feel of a larger ball of rock as many humans were still scrambling about "discovering" places. Note - most of these places had already been discovered by the people who lived in them. They just didn't shout about it in quite the same way. It is also interesting to note that the people doing the scrambling about were, for the most part, European. Is this because all Europe-ers are massive nosy bastards? Or maybe everyone else is happy where they are, mainly because fate/god/evolution saw to it that they got a warmer and more exotic spot on the big ball of rock. Another hypothesis might be that some parts of Europe were actually quite late off the mark with regards to general international nosiness. Empires from China, Persia, Greece, Italy and the Middle East had already got a lot of wandering out of their system prior to the time many Europeans were just stretching their legs and wondering exactly what was over the next hill. The "nosey Europe-ers" in question in this book are Gauss and Humboldt, both of whom were real gentlemen who did lots of simultaneous wandering and pondering. At this point, I suppose it would be good to present people with some hard facts that I may have learned (or Googled) about Gauss or Humboldt but I don't have any so I am unable to pass comment on how much artistic license Kehlmann took with the main characters. Essentially they are both stupendously clever but Gauss is cleverer than Humboldt what with being your more bog-standard genius and all. Humboldt is pretty smart, incredibly observant and probably an early example of someone with undiagnosed low latent inhibition (if you watched Prison Break then you'll know what I mean). Humboldts determination to be a genius actually almost puts him on level pegging with Gauss who is a bit lazier and less inclined to travel outside of Prussia. Is there a moral to this slightly comedic tale of exploration by two men, both with issues? Not really. Doesn't make it a bad read though, just means you'll walk away thinking "ok well that was quite nice" rather than "wow I am a better and more well rounded sentient entity for reading that".

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” This is a delightful historical picaresque about two late-eighteenth-century German scientists: Alexander von Humboldt, who valiantly explored South America and the Russian steppes, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, a misanthropic mathematician whose true genius wasn’t fully realized in his surveying and astronomical work. Both difficult in their own way, the men represent different models for how to do science: an adventurous one w “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” This is a delightful historical picaresque about two late-eighteenth-century German scientists: Alexander von Humboldt, who valiantly explored South America and the Russian steppes, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, a misanthropic mathematician whose true genius wasn’t fully realized in his surveying and astronomical work. Both difficult in their own way, the men represent different models for how to do science: an adventurous one who goes on journeys of discovery, and one who stays at home looking at what’s right under his nose. (Gauss envisions a scientist as “A man alone at his desk. A sheet of paper in front of him, at most a telescope as well, and a clear sky outside the window.”) I especially loved Gauss’s hot-air balloon ride and Humboldt’s attempt to summit a mountain. The lack of speech marks somehow adds to the dry wit.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alma

    “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    I read this back in 2007 in English, now in German for a book club. Here is my 2007 review. It is not uncommon to find fictional accounts of the lives of famous historical figures, nor of encounters between them. Kehlmann's book is unusual in its choice of personalities and in the way in which he creates an entertaining description of the two. In the late eighteenth century, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt had both embarked on the same quest: finding a new way of measuring the wor I read this back in 2007 in English, now in German for a book club. Here is my 2007 review. It is not uncommon to find fictional accounts of the lives of famous historical figures, nor of encounters between them. Kehlmann's book is unusual in its choice of personalities and in the way in which he creates an entertaining description of the two. In the late eighteenth century, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt had both embarked on the same quest: finding a new way of measuring the world. The two heroes couldn't be more different in character and approach. Gauss believed that "a man alone at his desk" represented the real scientist whereas von Humboldt saw him as a world traveler, collecting the evidence in the field and taking measurements wherever he went. Basing himself on the historical records of their lives and work, Kehlmann has created a tongue-in-cheek intimate portrait of these two scientific giants of their time. Gauss was a child prodigy from poor lower class background. He became known as the "Prince of Mathematicians" for his mathematical genius and who wrote his major scientific work at the age of 21. His name has been attached to many scientific discoveries including magnetism and astronomy. Not much is known of his private life, though, except for the bare facts of family and jobs that he had to support himself. He treated many of his scientific deductions as too easy and commonsensical to write about, only to be annoyed when somebody else published something related. Today we would say he was a curmudgeon kind of character. Count von Humboldt, on the other hand, came from a well-off aristocratic family and was spoiled for options what to do with his life. He and brother Wilhelm, a diplomat and linguist, have been a household name then and now, at least in German speaking countries. Alexander's work as a naturalist and explorer were well publicized during his lifetime. He was the first to explore the geological and botanical diversity of remote regions of Central and Latin America and wrote detailed scientific reports about his findings. He is seen as one of the fathers of biogeography. Later on, his travel bug took him all the way across Russia and almost to China. Late in life, the geniuses meet at the 1828 science congress in Berlin. However, the encounter didn't quite live up to the expectations built over many years of knowing of each other's work in the same area of science. Kehlmann brings his subjects close to the reader by focusing on a series of episodes from each of their lives, alternating between the two. Written in a lively style, he endears us to their personalities, bringing out their strengths and foibles. He introduces us to their scientific findings in a light-hearted easy-going way that capture the essence without overburdening the reader. Rather than creating long section of dialogue, he lets his protagonists express themselves in indirect dialogue. Allusions to contemporary events and issues are sprinkled throughout the narrative and add an often funny commentary. Measuring the World is a great read and highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    I'm a Bill Bryson fan so I'm used to reading about the quirky characters that history throws up; men (and sometimes women) of vast and fascinating eccentricity, whose contribution to science and progress is given that extra soupçon of interest by their delightful battiness. In Measuring the World we have exhibit A: Alexander von Humbold - a Prussian aristocrat with rampant OCD, determined to measure everything around him in an effort to quantify and so, understand, the world. and exhibit B: Carl I'm a Bill Bryson fan so I'm used to reading about the quirky characters that history throws up; men (and sometimes women) of vast and fascinating eccentricity, whose contribution to science and progress is given that extra soupçon of interest by their delightful battiness. In Measuring the World we have exhibit A: Alexander von Humbold - a Prussian aristocrat with rampant OCD, determined to measure everything around him in an effort to quantify and so, understand, the world. and exhibit B: Carl Friedrich Gauss - A poor German whose gift for mathematics is the wonder of his age. And whose inability to deal with the abject stupidity of absolutely everyone around him is the despair of everyone around him... These two colossal kooks are brought to life by Daniel Kehlmann, although with what dedication to absolute veracity I do not know, always a concern of mine when dealing with Historical Fiction which purports to lean heavily on the 'Historical' rather than the 'Fiction' part. I'm rather in the dark with these two - at least with the Phillipa Gregory's of the literary world I know where they stand with regard to historical accuracy (down the road, mired in a muddy ditch - She gets the names right but for much more than that I'm not prepared to give her credit) because I'm so familiar with history of that period. For these two...? More reading is required :-) If you don't give a hoot about historical accuracy and just want a great read with an author who makes science interesting, informative and also truthful! (Jules Verne eat your heart out) then this book is great. Well, it's great anyway but it's probably greater to not have nagging thoughts of 'Just how truthful are these accounts?' Follow these two extraordinary men as they go from bright eyed youths to cantankerous old codgers, exploring and expanding the frontiers of science as they go. Von Humboldt's travels all over the globe and down the Orinoco I found especially fascinating. It was an age of exploration and he dedicated his life and a great deal of his fortune to it. Gauss by contrast hated travel; his greatest explorations are within his mind. Unlike Von Humboldt, he didn't have a personal fortune, and I hate to think how much more he would have accomplished if he hadn't been stymied by the need to work in a rather boring career during what could have been his most productive years for scientific discovery. I wasn't really expecting to find a book like this on the 1001 list, but I guess that is what makes it so great. This sort of story will expand more than your knowledge of authors and books, this will expand your knowledge of the entire world.

  16. 5 out of 5

    GridGirl

    “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” I feel like things between me and “Measuring the World” could have gone so much better. The preconditions were good: A novel about two scientists, one being Alexander von Humboldt, the other one no less a figure than Carl Gauss himself. I am the one to blame for how bad this went. I chose to read this as an audio book. As it turns out, this was a huge mistake. I realize now that I’m easily distracted when I’m listening to aud “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” I feel like things between me and “Measuring the World” could have gone so much better. The preconditions were good: A novel about two scientists, one being Alexander von Humboldt, the other one no less a figure than Carl Gauss himself. I am the one to blame for how bad this went. I chose to read this as an audio book. As it turns out, this was a huge mistake. I realize now that I’m easily distracted when I’m listening to audio books. This is not a big problem when my audio book of choice is a light and fluffy YA book, but it just doesn’t work out when it’s a heavy Historical Fiction novel with quite some amount of inner monologue and jumping between perspectives. I found myself often confused as to who I was following at the moment and (especially with Humboldt) how he got from A to B. I loved Gauss as a character, he was my absolute favorite. He was just hilarious and lovely and incredibly interesting. He is the reason I might try this book again in its physical form. However, I also found myself wondering many times if things actually happened how they were depicted. So, I might just pick up a biography about Gauss instead. 2.5/5

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jelena

    “Die Vermessung der Welt“ is incredibly funny. In an intelligent, refined and sophisticated way. The story is a quite simple one: Parallelly told are the lives of two German 19th-century scientists, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl-Friedrich Gauß. And you do not need any particular scientific knowledge or interest to find the book appealing. On the other hand, the story itself is not the point, it never is (at least not to me). If I had to isolate the element from which the entire beauty of this n “Die Vermessung der Welt“ is incredibly funny. In an intelligent, refined and sophisticated way. The story is a quite simple one: Parallelly told are the lives of two German 19th-century scientists, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl-Friedrich Gauß. And you do not need any particular scientific knowledge or interest to find the book appealing. On the other hand, the story itself is not the point, it never is (at least not to me). If I had to isolate the element from which the entire beauty of this novel unfolds, it would be the style. The narrative is dynamic, fast-paced, the sentences short and often laconic. From that point of view it is charming how the oh-so-German megalomania represented in Humboldt’s and Gauß’ work is diminished by the concise presentation of it. Instead of detailed portrayals you get sketches, but they are more the sufficient to create a very human and three-dimensional image of the protagonists. The two stories are told alternately, and even though Humboldt and Gauß do not meet until the end (chronologically), there are many parallels and connections between the two of them, which creates a movie-like quality. The main feature is the exceptionally clever humour. I laughed aloud sitting alone in a room thanks to the irony and self-irony (e.g. coming from a modern-day narrator depicting the issues of 19th-century everyday life to a modern reader, yet never leaving the frame of the story). The author makes full use of every imaginable stereotype about scientists, Germans or German scientists: there is the genius reduced to a clerk, the underestimated apprentice, the life-long rivalry between ambitious brothers, aristocratic children trained for greatness from an early age, the child prodigy from a lower-class family, the ideal of creating a complete and indisputable system based on one grand idea and most of all the socially incompetent genius with a larger-than-life perception of the own persona (Hello, Sheldon) etc. A special treat are the slight but sufficient hints of intrigue and vanity in high political and intellectual circles. Intelligence, humour, sarcasm, weirdness ‒ what more could one ask for? And yes, at times it does feel like a basic version of The Big Bang Theory.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Outside of my comfort zone, which sometimes works out and sometimes does not. In this case, a historical novel about a German explorer named Humboldt and a German mathematician and astronomer named Gauss. Some chapters you get the explorer (more entertaining, if episodic due to the movement in the Americas) and some chapters. you get the math (eh). Brief scenes of interest, but not so gripping after all, and little investment in the characters who are anything but warm, fuzzy types. Rather the s Outside of my comfort zone, which sometimes works out and sometimes does not. In this case, a historical novel about a German explorer named Humboldt and a German mathematician and astronomer named Gauss. Some chapters you get the explorer (more entertaining, if episodic due to the movement in the Americas) and some chapters. you get the math (eh). Brief scenes of interest, but not so gripping after all, and little investment in the characters who are anything but warm, fuzzy types. Rather the stereotypical Germans instead. One of those "do I continue, or do I give up?" books. I continued. One of those "outside of my comfort zone" books that doesn't work out, at least not to the extent expected. Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bob Brinkmeyer

    Daniel Kehlmnn’s thoroughly engaging novel Measuring the World follows the exploits of two of history’s towering figures of mathematics and natural science in their pursuits to measure the world: Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt. Gauss and Humboldt stand starkly opposite in their methods and outlooks. Gauss focuses on numbers and equations (and then later on theoretical physics) while Humboldt delves wholeheartedly into the natural world. The contrast reveals itself most starkly i Daniel Kehlmnn’s thoroughly engaging novel Measuring the World follows the exploits of two of history’s towering figures of mathematics and natural science in their pursuits to measure the world: Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt. Gauss and Humboldt stand starkly opposite in their methods and outlooks. Gauss focuses on numbers and equations (and then later on theoretical physics) while Humboldt delves wholeheartedly into the natural world. The contrast reveals itself most starkly in a conversation between the two. Science, Gauss tells Humboldt, “is a man alone at his desk. A sheet of paper in front of him, at most a telescope as well, and a clear sky outside the window.” For Humboldt, a man who has embarked on repeated quests all over the world to collect samples and measure natural phenomena, confinement in a room would be like being condemned to prison. What about journeys, he asks Gauss. “Whatever was hiding way out there in holes or volcanoes or mines was accidental, unimportant,” Gauss responds. “That wasn’t how the world would become clearer.” No doubt Humboldt is aghast. The two men, put simply, represent parallel lines of thought, parallel ways of measuring the world. Can the two ever meet in their intellectual endeavors? Parallel lines can’t by definition meet—or can they? Indeed, this is precisely a problem that Gauss ponders, coming to the stunning conclusion, in his reconfiguration of Euclidean principles (into what’s now known as non-Euclidean geometry), that they indeed can. And one can see Kehlmann drawing from Gauss’s conclusion to structure his work. The novel opens with Gauss and Humboldt meeting in Berlin in 1828, and then moves back in time providing, in alternating chapters, their histories and escapades leading up until that meeting. Once the novel is back in Berlin in 1828, the two parallel men/lines having converged (literally if not scientifically), the novel then follows their further exploits, but this time, though they diverge in terms of space and time, they somehow are still engaged psychically and intellectually, seemingly conversing across great distances and now working together on the mysteries of magnetic fields. Perhaps we should call it non-Euclidean narrative. If narrative structure is important, so too is tone and perspective, which are decidedly comic. Kehlmann takes to heart an observation he gives to Gauss: “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.” Not that Gauss and Humboldt come off as clowns—their brilliance is everywhere evident—but they often do appear clownish, primarily because they are so absorbed in their intellectual endeavors that they remain oblivious to the demands of the everyday world and of everyday social graces. When immersed in his great work, Disquitiones Arithemeticae, Gauss remains unmindful of the Napoleonic War engulfing the continent (Napoleon? Who? What?), while Humboldt is so focused during his far-flung journeys on measuring and collecting that he loses sight not only of the beauty of the world but more importantly of the precarious, death-defying situations into which he often puts himself and his assistant. In my favorite line from the novel, Humboldt’s assistant asks in frustration: “Did one always have to be so German?” The answer, of course, is that to achieve what he did, Humboldt, as well as Gauss, indeed had to be so German—that is, entirely fixated on their work. Comic in their foibles, brilliant in their quests for knowledge, Gauss and Humboldt remain to this day towering figures in the ways we understand and measure the world.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Smartarse

    Translated into English as Measuring the World. Carl Friedrich Gauß and Alexander von Humboldt were two brilliant scientists who each set out to measure the world. Humboldt decided to travel to remote places, measuring anything and everything on the way, using various devices. Gauss on the other hand, managed to do his measuring remotely, by means of complex mathematical equations. First, I don't much like biographies. With exttemely few exceptions, they all end up boring me one way or another. Gr Translated into English as Measuring the World. Carl Friedrich Gauß and Alexander von Humboldt were two brilliant scientists who each set out to measure the world. Humboldt decided to travel to remote places, measuring anything and everything on the way, using various devices. Gauss on the other hand, managed to do his measuring remotely, by means of complex mathematical equations. First, I don't much like biographies. With exttemely few exceptions, they all end up boring me one way or another. Granted, our two heroes led some rather interesting lives, if only due to how much they stood out in a crowd. That said, I still found myself tuning the book out quite often. I even tried reading it aloud, but then I started concentrating on my pronunciation rather than the story. Second, I read the book in German, a language in which I'm not competent enough to fully appreciate subtle nuances. Third, I couldn't see the humor, even when it hit me over the head. I really wanted at least a little reprieve from the difficulty in language comprehension, but the most I felt was mild disgust. I mean, I can definitely point out scenes that should have logically felt funny, but I could barely muster up a faint giggle. Score: 2/5 stars I hated the two main characters with a passion. Not because they lacked any modesty about their smarts, rather due to their need to patronize all those who fell short of their mile-high standards. So 99% of the world. Bottom line: if I hadn't been constantly tuning the story out, I might've given it 3 stars...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathrin

    Picking up the book I knew more about Alexander von Humboldt than Carl Friedrich Gauss. My lifelong love for museums confronted me a lot with Humboldt's expeditions while the only knowledge I had of Gauss goes back to my school days. What intrigued me the most was a sole question - would the author be able to hold my interest. Reading (or listening to) a biographical novel can be frustrating when the author ventures too far into details. It's easy to be overwhelmed with too much information. In Picking up the book I knew more about Alexander von Humboldt than Carl Friedrich Gauss. My lifelong love for museums confronted me a lot with Humboldt's expeditions while the only knowledge I had of Gauss goes back to my school days. What intrigued me the most was a sole question - would the author be able to hold my interest. Reading (or listening to) a biographical novel can be frustrating when the author ventures too far into details. It's easy to be overwhelmed with too much information. In my opinion, Kehlmann did a decent job. His story follows both explorers on their quests to measure and understand their world a little better. At some point in the story, I liked Humboldt story arc more, while I enjoyed other times to read about Gauss. Despite learning a lot, I've got to admit that the story has its lengths. However, I liked the engaging way of the author's writing as well as the setting. You can probably tell the story of two explorers with the example of two other people but with setting the story in the time of Enlightenment made it all the more compelling. I love to think about the fact that people had to conquer many obstacles to see and explore the world while nowadays all you have to do is book a ticket. Makes me appreciate the times I live in a little more. All in all, 'Measuring the World' is a great read that I can recommend to fans of historical fiction. I would have also enjoyed the read when I was way younger - maybe I would have even liked school a little more.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Pool

    Synopsis The book opens in 1828 as Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss, two luminaries of the early c.19th., both attend the German Scientists' Convention in Berlin. An imagined meeting between the two, forms the basis of Daniel Kehlmann’s fictionalisation, and he cleverly juxtaposes two men revered by their contemporaries as they sought to explore and explain the world via, respectively, observation and exploration (Humbold) and mathematical, and astronomical analysis (Gauss). The Synopsis The book opens in 1828 as Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss, two luminaries of the early c.19th., both attend the German Scientists' Convention in Berlin. An imagined meeting between the two, forms the basis of Daniel Kehlmann’s fictionalisation, and he cleverly juxtaposes two men revered by their contemporaries as they sought to explore and explain the world via, respectively, observation and exploration (Humbold) and mathematical, and astronomical analysis (Gauss). The two pioneers have separate, alternating, chapters dedicated to their exploits and revelations, though the two come together in direct dialogue as the book progresses. In 1803, aged thirty three Humboldt made an expedition to South America, with (largely overlooked) partner Aime Bonpland, and as well as describing numerous adventures, mapped the natural canal connecting the Orinoco and the Amazon rivers. This trip lasted five years, and is the subject of the first half of the book as Humboldt discovered previously uncharted animals, flora, indigenous peoples, and clarified Europe’s territorial claims in New Spain (whose maps and boundaries were vague). The journey started in Spain, progressed via Tenerife, moved on to Cuba, then Venezuela, and into the Amazon region, returning to the "City of Palaces" (now known as Mexico City). The journey home was via Havana, Cuba, then to USA’s temporary capital, Philadelphia. Humboldt’s “measuring” skills, and his personal dedication and sometime disregard for his own safety, come through clearly in Kehlmann’s narrative. This is a story of remote Jesuit missions, cannibalism, grave robbing, and the breaking of world records (Chimborazo in the Andes where Humboldt climbed to a height of 18,690 feet altitude). Humboldt is not averse to self experimentation using Curare, a paralysing toxin. In the latter stages of the book, Humboldt’s visit in older age, to Russia, are described. The fame achieved by Humboldt preceded him, and the hangers on, and the crowds of onlookers turned these trips into a circus. What is truly apparent is that Humboldt, or his research methods, was by now outdated, and there’s a palpable sense that it’s a different world; one that has moved on (this the 1830’s). The parallel account of Gauss’s exploits is less geographically diverse, and is the stuff of fewer anecdotes and stories of great derring-do. Kehlmann concentrates more closely on Gauss’s personality, and particularly the trials and tribulations in his family life. Gauss wrote his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (“Arithmetical Investigations") in 1798, aged 21, and was recognised as a child genius. For those of us (myself included) who are not natural mathematicians, the Gauss sections of the book are harder to follow, and less colourful. Testing Euclid’s theories, and principles of Triangulation are a bit dry for the non-technical reader. It was said of Gauss “ He has been sent into the world with an intellect that rendered almost everything human impossible” (82) Intriguingly both men had day jobs to pay the bills and in the need to secure funds to support their passions. Gauss, head of The State Boundaries Commission in Hannover, and Humboldt as the assessor in the Department of Mines in Prussia. Kehlmann’s conflation of the lives of the two men is well done, and when Gauss is aloft in a hot air balloon (a very early journey with Pilâtre), the outline of the globe is commented upon: “all parallel lines meet” (54) It could be an epithet to describe the lives and influence of Humboldt and Gauss as their differing interests and approaches to knowledge eventually converge in Kehlmann’s fiction. Highlights As somebody whose school history took in very little c.19th century German history, the sweep of events described was new, and fascinating. Kehlmann does enliven academic narrative with small detail and some humour. In particular • Reality of an era without ‘tooth doctors’. • Mosquitos everywhere, all the time. • The brutality (ignorance? naiveté?) of early explorers. In particular the study of the hunting behaviour of two crocodiles in Havana (141) • The system of divided collections was invented, because of the hazardous nature of transport homewards. Lowlights • Eugen Gauss (Carl Friedrich’s son) opens and closes the book. I am not convinced that removing Eugen from the story entirely would diminish the book. • Cavalier attitude towards women and girls. There is little of no sense that women were of any use in the period. Gauss’s response to his mothers death seems a bit unlikely. • Writing style when Humboldt and Gauss are in imagined dialogue together is confusing. This may just be the translation? Historical & Literary This is a primarily a historical novel. I learned a lot about a period of time of which I was largely ignorant. Numerous emerging philosophies and inventions, in a pre-industrial world, occur throughout the book. The licence taken by Kehlmann enlivens the events rather than disrespects them. • Daguerre. The father of photography • Neptunism/ Volcanos/ Mountains (Humboldt had climbed more than anyone else on earth (178) • Humboldt’s brother, (the contrast between two talented, and different men, in an imagined fiction, would conceivably have made a more natural fit from a literary writers perspective) “ a pair of brothers in whom the whole panoply of human aspirations so manifested itself” (13) Elder brother worked with Schiller and Goethe, and he was a leading educationalist. When they left each other’s company, always asked if they would see each other again: “In this world or the next. In the flesh or in the light” (32) (226) A backdrop to the activities of the two central protagonists is the political and national changes ongoing in Western Europe. Napoleon knew of both men and jokingly, Gauss claims that Napoleon didn’t bombard Gottingen because of his presence there (160). Of Humboldt “ Napoleon had always hated him” (184) • “German Gymnastics” (4) Latent nationalism apparent in causes that Gauss’s son is drawn to, • Goethe to Humboldt before his expedition- “don’t forget where you come from (28) Politics and Patronage Humboldt, a German, preferred Paris. He lived there for years as a representative of Prussia's Friedrich Wilhelm III. Gauss, of more humble origins- “ he knew that there would soon be no more dukes”(49). Nonetheless he was financially dependent on the Duke of Brunswick, in Hannover. The fascinating contrast between hereditary position and natural born talent and the emergence of genius from both sources is well examined in Black Oxford’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Humboldt in history • Humboldt inspired scientists and writers including Jules Verne and Charles Darwin (‘the reason why he boarded the Beagle’), Goethe, (who declared that spending a few days with Humboldt was like “having lived several years”.) Henry David Thoreau (poet anda naturalist). Walden would have been a very different book without Humboldt. Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass with a copy of one of Humboldt’s books on his desk • Humboldt’s name still widely evident, from the Humboldt Current running along the west coast of South America to the Humboldt penguin. Questions Accuracy of anecdotes? It’s the writers prerogative to embellish the truth when writing fiction. There are some obvious flights of fancy (behind bedroom doors, for example), and its fun to guess what is absolute truth and what is make believe. • Alexander Von Humbolt’s brother is explicitly never referred to by his name (Wilhelm ). Why is this? • Humboldt meets numerous travellers in the wild beyond (Jesuit missions were active, and governments despatched explorers in the national interest). One man (Brombacher) appears in the middle of the jungle. Its almost Monty Pythonesque. Did such a person exist? Author background & Reviews According to The New York Times, Measuring the World was the world's second best-selling novel in 2006. It has sold more than 2.5 million copies in Germany alone. All his subsequent novels have reached the number one spot on Germany's Spiegel bestseller list His most recent novel Tyll has sold more than 600,000 copies in German alone, is due to be published in the UK in February 2020, and is being adapted into a TV series. Recommend Always, with historical fiction, the question I ask myself is whether the use of a fictional wrap to tell of mostly factual events, adds something to a straightforward academic text, and/or a Wikipedia look up. I’m not sure that Daniel Kehlmann pulls this off from a purely literary perspective. The final third of the book, the Russian expedition for Humboldt, is messy. That said, there’s much to like and it’s a book I would recommend to many of my friends

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Measuring the World reimagines the life of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The book follows a fictionalised account of their journey, along with Aimé Bonpland as they measure the world. Their methods where ground-breaking and this novel entangles their lives to explore their effects on science today. This is not a book of science, this is historical fiction that explores the lives of two German scientists. While the subject matter may sound dull an Measuring the World reimagines the life of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The book follows a fictionalised account of their journey, along with Aimé Bonpland as they measure the world. Their methods where ground-breaking and this novel entangles their lives to explore their effects on science today. This is not a book of science, this is historical fiction that explores the lives of two German scientists. While the subject matter may sound dull and fact heavy, Daniel Kehlmann handles the topic with skill. It is an impressive feat to make a subject that sounds boring come across exciting and interesting. Kehlmann’s writing skills turns the subject of science into a novel of elegance and beauty. The two plots revolving around Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt worked well together and I found myself fully immersed in the whole experience. Having said that this is a book of science and German history so I feel hesitant in going into more details because I worry I will get the information wrong. That does make for short review but all I can really say is; read it. Published in German in 2005 under the title Die Vermessung der Welt, Measuring the World turned into a huge literary sensation for the country. This book knocked bestsellers like Harry Potter and Dan Brown off the list. The only other German book that has achieved that (that I know of) was Perfume by Patrick Süskind. This was a wonderful book and I learned a little about German and Prussian history. Carl Friedrich Gauss has sometimes been referred to as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and Alexander von Humboldt as the second Columbus. Two great people of history I knew nothing about and I think the opportunity to learn something new while reading beautiful prose made for a wonderful experience. This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sovotchka

    German books that are hyped enough to get translated seem to have something in common. That something being that I don't enjoy them very much. While I do believe that a meeting between Gauß and Humboldt could lead to an interesting book, and while I do know scientists that are so far removed from life that they're socially awkward, I don't think that focussing a book on the awkwardness of said scientists is a great idea. Gauß, although annoying and arrogant, seems to have a grasp on what a normal German books that are hyped enough to get translated seem to have something in common. That something being that I don't enjoy them very much. While I do believe that a meeting between Gauß and Humboldt could lead to an interesting book, and while I do know scientists that are so far removed from life that they're socially awkward, I don't think that focussing a book on the awkwardness of said scientists is a great idea. Gauß, although annoying and arrogant, seems to have a grasp on what a normal life is; even going so far as marrying, having kids, and calling upon his own idol. Humboldt seems to lack all that, being entirely too sure of himself and almost in love with his own intellect. There is a mention of their achievements; Gauß is shown as having no idea how he ever managed to write the Disquisitiones a mere two hours after finishing, and the most eccentric, awkward moments of Humboldt's travels are described. If I tell you that neither of the characters is ever likeable, that would be an understatement. In fact, upon their meeting both are so pretentious that the reader wonders how they ever managed to ensure their status as scientists despite their work. The interesting clash of ideas falls magnificently short, as was to be expected after a few hundred pages of pure pessimism. I honestly have no idea why this book was so hyped; maybe people like to read their own idea of what might have happened into it. Not recommended. At all.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    A huge success in Germany. For the life of me I can't figure out why. Which were more boring - the parts about Gauss, or the parts about Humboldt? Trick question - they were equally soporific. What in hell was the point of this book? if I hadn't been confined to an aeroplane, I'd never have finished it. 5 Yawns on the snoozometer. A huge success in Germany. For the life of me I can't figure out why. Which were more boring - the parts about Gauss, or the parts about Humboldt? Trick question - they were equally soporific. What in hell was the point of this book? if I hadn't been confined to an aeroplane, I'd never have finished it. 5 Yawns on the snoozometer.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    After falling in love with Kehlmann's Tyll, I had to see if he uses the same sly voice in his other books, or if it was specific to Tyll, where the main character was so cleverly slippery himself. Kehlmann does use a version of this voice and gives us teasingly affectionate, funny, and sometimes poignant portraits of Humboldt and Gauss - their genius and their MANY absurdities. The narrative voice sounded to me like a tongue-in-cheek historian who happily sacrifices accuracy for amusement, while After falling in love with Kehlmann's Tyll, I had to see if he uses the same sly voice in his other books, or if it was specific to Tyll, where the main character was so cleverly slippery himself. Kehlmann does use a version of this voice and gives us teasingly affectionate, funny, and sometimes poignant portraits of Humboldt and Gauss - their genius and their MANY absurdities. The narrative voice sounded to me like a tongue-in-cheek historian who happily sacrifices accuracy for amusement, while still sticking to the historical trail. I will definitely have to bump up The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World on my TBR to see just how far afield Kehlmann has gone to make Humboldt so entertaining. And also to check on how Bonpland, Humboldt's assistant, really fared on their travels - hopefully better than in Kehlmann's version. The rest of this review is mostly quotations, since the writing is SO good. Kehlmann's Humboldt is the intrepid, world traveler who takes empirical research to extremes that baffle those around him - he has himself tied to the bow of a ship to measure the waves, drops into a volcano on a rope, and asphyxiates himself in caves, to name just a few. Here's an example of one of Humboldts early experiments at home on electrical currents that also shows Kehmann's brand of humor and the writing devices he uses to achieve it: He took off his shirt, lay down on the bed, and instructed a servant to attach two cupping glasses to his back. The servant obeyed, and Humboldt's skin produced two large blisters. And now please cut the blisters open! The servant hesitated. Humboldt had to raise his voice, the servant took up the scalpel. It was so sharp that the cut caused almost no pain. Blood dripped onto the floor. Humboldt ordered a piece of zinc to be laid on one of the wounds. The servant asked if he could stop for a moment, he wasn't feeling well.Humboldt told him not to be so stupid. As a piece of silver touched the second wound, a painful spasm shot through his back muscles and up into his head. With a shaking hand he made a note: Musculus cucullaris, ongoing prickling sensation in dorsal vertebrae. No doubt about it, this was electricity! Repeat with the silver! He counted four shocks, regularly spaced, then the objects around him lost their color.When he regained consciousness, the servant was sitting white-faced on the floor, his hands bloody.Onward, said Humboldt, and with a strange shiver of apprehension he realized that something in him was finding pleasure in this. Now for the frogs!Oh no, said the servant.Humboldt asked if he was intending to look for a new job.The servant laid four dead, meticulously cleaned frogs on Humboldt's bloodied back. But this was quite enough, he said, after all they were both good Christians.Humboldt ignored him and ordered silver again. The shocks began immediately. With each one, as he saw in the mirror, the frogs jumped as if alive. He bit down into the pillow, the cloth was wet from his tears. The servant giggled hysterically. Gauss is temperamentally the opposite of Humboldt. Whereas Humboldt took a can-do attitude to ridiculous heights, Gauss lived in a permanent funk over the idiocy of everyone whose brain didn't work as fast as his - which was literally everyone. He was equally as socially obtuse as Humboldt, but had a family to inflict it upon. His students were the stupidest people he had ever met. He spoke so slowly that he had forgotten the beginning of his sentences before he'd reached the end. It didn't do any good. He left everything difficult out, and stuck to the absolute basics. They didn't understand. He wanted to cry. He wondered if halfwits had a special idiom that one could learn like a foreign language. He gesticulated with both hands, pointed to his lips, and shaped sounds exaggeratedly, as if he were dealing with the deaf... the dean took Gauss aside after the faculty meeting and begged him not to be so strict. When Gauss got home close to tears, he found only uninvited strangers: a doctor, a midwife, and his parents-in-law.He'd missed everything, said his mother-in-law. Head in the clouds again!He didn't even have a decent telescope, he said, upset. What had happened?It was a boy.What did she mean, a boy? Only when he saw her eyes did he understand. And he knew at once that she would never forgive him.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Daren

    I don't read a lot of fiction, but this is fictionalised - and appears to contain a lot of fact related to the travel and the science (and mathematics) of the two central characters - Alexander von Humboldt & Carl Friedrich Gauss. Both German, and contemporary, it is not clear to me if they ever met or were colleagues / friends, as they are in this book. Both fascinating men, but very different in their approach to their fields. Humboldt embodies inductive science - based on observation and exper I don't read a lot of fiction, but this is fictionalised - and appears to contain a lot of fact related to the travel and the science (and mathematics) of the two central characters - Alexander von Humboldt & Carl Friedrich Gauss. Both German, and contemporary, it is not clear to me if they ever met or were colleagues / friends, as they are in this book. Both fascinating men, but very different in their approach to their fields. Humboldt embodies inductive science - based on observation and experience - he is the explorer - the climber, the measurer, the scientist taking samples - plants, animals, rocks. Gauss is pure deductive science an academic, at his desk performing calculations, producing formulae, viewing the stars in his telescope. Similarly both geniuses, but very much presented here as quite human - flaws well captured in the flow of the novel. The larger crossover with Humboldt and Gauss is surveying - measuring the world. They both develop technique and carry out a significant amount of surveying and cartography. The third character in the novel is Aimé Bonpland, who travels with Humboldt, and provides a lot of the wit in Humboldt's chapters. The other constant character is Gauss' son Eugen. Despite being the son of a genius, Eugen is of average intellect. Eugen is a disappointment to Gauss, and shares none of the interests of his father. This was an enjoyable novel - funny in many parts, well paced, and interesting. The first half was much stronger, and from the midpoint onwards I found myself considering how it would be resolved, or in fact what the storyline here was to resolve. I suspect the storyline is somewhat light, and we are looking at a comparison between the two characters, and their approach to their work, and their lives, rather than pure plot. In a few other reviews I read, those who read it in its original German and in English have said the humour and tone didn't always translate successfully. I found it pretty amusing, so I was pretty surprised by that. Difficult to rate, as I haven't the intimate knowledge to know how much liberty the author took with the fictionalisation. I enjoyed it enough to be between three and four stars. Rounded up.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Austin

    In this novel, we follow the Adventurers/Intellectuals Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel at times, yet at other times i literally fell asleep due to boredom. If Daniel Kehlmann would have removed some of the formulas or numbers that did not apply to grasping the concept of the novel, I would have given it a rating of 4, or possibly even a 5 out of 5. This novel did an excellent job of demonstrating the struggles, both physical and emotional that tho In this novel, we follow the Adventurers/Intellectuals Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel at times, yet at other times i literally fell asleep due to boredom. If Daniel Kehlmann would have removed some of the formulas or numbers that did not apply to grasping the concept of the novel, I would have given it a rating of 4, or possibly even a 5 out of 5. This novel did an excellent job of demonstrating the struggles, both physical and emotional that those select few who have dared to improve the fields of science and mathematics have had to face over the ages. The adventures that take place, such as traveling through a jungle, climbing a mountain, etc. were extremely intriguing. However, these interesting parts were diminished by useless information. I enjoyed seeing things from the geniuses point of view, and beginning to feel how hard it must be to be a social outcast most of your life, yet not deterring from the path you have in mind. I would recommend this book to anyone who does not mind powering through dry parts, because the overall message of this book is a good one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Berit Lundqvist

    “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good thing to measure them.” Two science supernovas, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss both try to understand the world in their own way. Humboldt with a hands-on approach, as he climbs volcanos, sails rivers and fights himself through jungles. Gauss, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, hates to travel, stays at home, and works solely with his mind. Apart from the famous Gauss curve, he manag “Whenever things were frightening, it was a good thing to measure them.” Two science supernovas, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss both try to understand the world in their own way. Humboldt with a hands-on approach, as he climbs volcanos, sails rivers and fights himself through jungles. Gauss, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, hates to travel, stays at home, and works solely with his mind. Apart from the famous Gauss curve, he managed to prove that space is curved. Finally, the two of them meet in Berlin. Daniel Kehlmann has written a historical novel. Despite of the fact it being purely fictional, Kehlman really understands what gets science interesting. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass if the story is true or not. The narration is beautiful. You’ll learn stuff, whether you like it or not.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julia Kulgavchuk

    As much as I’d love to know about each day of Alexander for Humboldt’s life, I don’t want to get this knowledge from fiction presented as a historical account. This is an easy read about Gauss and Alexander for Humboldt. But how much is based on diaries, letters etc. and how much is made up? My intuition is, a lot is made up. The brilliant "The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf managed to present the characters of Humboldt, Darwin and others more vividly while keeping to the limits of a document As much as I’d love to know about each day of Alexander for Humboldt’s life, I don’t want to get this knowledge from fiction presented as a historical account. This is an easy read about Gauss and Alexander for Humboldt. But how much is based on diaries, letters etc. and how much is made up? My intuition is, a lot is made up. The brilliant "The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf managed to present the characters of Humboldt, Darwin and others more vividly while keeping to the limits of a documented historical account. Andrea Wulf also did a great job of explaining the historical significance of their work. Measuring the World does none of this. As fiction it’s mediocre, as historical reference it’s unusable.

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