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Measuring the Universe: The Historical Quest…

Measuring the Universe: The Historical Quest to Quantify Space (1999)

by Kitty Ferguson

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  EclecticAthenaeum | Mar 17, 2016 |
Measuring the Universe is a good companion to another favorite of mine, Calendar which also documents the struggle of people to tame the natural world, and maybe understand it a little. It also fits into a kind of genre I have come to enjoy, that of science and the history of science for general readers. I only did so-so in school science classes, and soon leaned toward humanities, yet both have amazing human stories to tell. This book is especially one focused on personalities that formed our now slightly more organized worldview, and how their ideas came to be.

It starts with the ancients (who often came close with very rough tools) and all the way to the still rather crowded world of 20th century science (the book was published in 1999). The author actually discusses how many of the fresher stories will fade in time, since a period like the 16th century was probably just as crowded to those living in it.

Very readable writing style and copious use of well-chosen quotes to begin chapters. There are also useful reading tools such as an index, bibliography and sources used. I am not sure if I completely understand red-shifting or size of the universe (and associated controversy), but I am a lot closer now. ( )
  amarie | Apr 2, 2010 |
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To my brother, David, who, as a child, made himself ill worrying about the size of the universe.
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There is no task so simple, yet so profound in its consequences, as the act of taking a measurement.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802775926, Paperback)

If you want to measure how big a stick is, you can use a ruler. Want to know how tall a windmill is? Don't waste time climbing to the top with a long measuring tape. Instead, use the old shadow trick--measure the length of a yardstick's shadow, then measure the windmill's shadow and use ratios to figure out the windmill's height. Even though the windmill is big and intimidating, you can find out its size while remaining safely on the ground. This is the first example in science author Kitty Ferguson's fine book Measuring the Universe, and it sets the reader's brain firmly on the right track for understanding.

The topic here is measurement of faraway, distant, difficult things. Starting with Eratosthenes, who found a way of measuring the earth's circumference, and continuing through to modern astrophysicists' quest to measure the universe itself, Ferguson takes us on a full tour of the seemingly immeasurable. Readers are treated to enthusiastic chapters covering all the basic steps astronomers (dating back to Aristarchus of Samos) have taken to understand the arrangement of astronomical objects. How big are stars? Is that black hole moving toward us or away from us? Where is the edge of everything? And how big will the universe get before it stops expanding? You'll meet the men and women who have sought answers to these seemingly impossible questions in this accessible history. Ferguson brilliantly illuminates their personal quests and demonstrates the usefulness of each discovery in driving the next attempt to measure the universe. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:00 -0400)

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A veteran popularizer of science, Ferguson traces how people in western history have attempted to measure space from the ancient Greeks to modern physicists and astronomers. She begins with Eratosthenes' accurate measurement of the circumference of the Earth in the third century BC and progresses to the theories of Stephen Hawking and his contemporaries. Her account is for general readers. She includes a glossary that does not indicate pronunciation.… (more)

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