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Measuring the World (2005)

by Daniel Kehlmann

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,9841043,732 (3.77)140
Towards the end of the 18th century, naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician and physicist, Carl Friedrich Gauss, set out to measure the world. This novel brings the two eccentric geniuses to life.
  1. 30
    The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf (thorold)
    thorold: Kehlmann's ironic fictional view casts a rather different light on Humboldt from Wulf's, and possibly a slightly unfair one, but both are interesting.
  2. 10
    Das Erlkönig-Manöver by Robert Löhr (spiphany)
  3. 00
    Euphoria by Lily King (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: biografische Romane großer Forscher
  4. 00
    Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (DeusXMachina)
    DeusXMachina: Another collaboration between two very different scientists.
  5. 00
    Die Gleichung des Lebens: Roman by Norman Ohler (spiphany)
  6. 00
    Das bin doch ich by Thomas Glavinic (JuliaMaria)
  7. 00
    Bow Grip by Ivan E. Coyote (Anonymous user)
  8. 00
    Imperium by Christian Kracht (HL84)
  9. 00
    Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl by Gert Hofmann (spiphany)
  10. 00
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (JuliaMaria)

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» See also 140 mentions

English (62)  German (17)  Swedish (4)  French (4)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (4)  Danish (3)  Italian (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (102)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Really this book should have received a better rating but I wasn't at my best when reading and it became rather disjointed. This is basically the story of two men in the late 18th Century. Alexander von Humboldt left Germany with his assistant Bonplant to discover everything about the world that he could - the depth of rivers and caves, the core of volcanoes, etc. He survived harrowing situations always sending notes back to his brother who stayed in Germany. The other fellow, Carl Frederick Gauss, was a mathematician who basically didn't like people, wasn't interested in them, and was extremely eccentric. His son, Eugen, received the worst of his cricitisms.

The two men meet in Berlin and appreciate each other's works, but have different approaches to life. ( )
  maryreinert | Dec 13, 2021 |
Really good adventure story. The author weaves two different story lines together flawlessly. ( )
  grandpahobo | Aug 2, 2021 |
I could not care for these people...
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
It's been years since I last read more than a handful of German books; the last few years barely one per year. So I "promised" myself to do a bit better in 2021.

'Die Vermessung der Welt' caught my interest because it focused on two historic scientists: Carl Friedrich Gauss (Wikipedia) and Alexander von Humboldt (Wikipedia). My knowledge of these two people is close to nihil, although I had heard of them, albeit not in school, as far as I remember.

A few years ago, the book proved to be a little too difficult for my level of German. Linguistic knowledge must be maintained, that's a fact. Having read the story now, I'm surprised at how fluently it reads (well, I read, the book can't read itself, can it?). However, you do need a large enough understanding of the German language. Basic knowledge won't do.

Only 302 pages to read... let's sliiiiide through it. Uh, no, not at all. The chapters are episodic, in that the focus shifts per chapter: one about Gauss, the next about von Humboldt, then Gauss, then von Humboldt, ... Of course, in a few chapters, both characters do meet and exchange views and opinions, if they're not writing letters to each other. As the chapters are also relatively short, a lot is not told, it's up to the reader to fill in the gaps or to even "see"/understand who the secondary characters were, which role they played in Gauss's and von Humboldt's lives.

It's not a real historic account of these scientists' endeavours, more like a uchronia, I'd say. However the setup, Daniel Kehlmann wrote their stories in a way that you would feel sympathy for these men, as they were very devoted to their work, their lives' works: exploring, discovering and measuring. Gathering of knowledge (except that von Humboldt met a Buddhist monk who told him: What do you really know? Can you resurrect my dead dog?). Contributing to a better world.

Both men had their troubles, be it in love (relationships) or whilst doing the exploring (be it natural boundaries, financial boundaries, or political boundaries, where everything is arranged and organised for them, especially in von Humboldt's case). They were also very dedicated to the cause, work before pleasure, and certainly not the more "plain" events like parties and gatherings.

'Die Vermessung der Welt' (Wikipedia) offers a glimpse of Gauss's and von Humbodt's lives, their discoveries, their efforts, their inventions, ... and is therefore an excellent, fictional introduction to read more about them. Mind you, physics, mathematics, ... were never my cup of tea in school, but learning through fiction and then non-fiction, without obligations and exams, makes it all the more interesting.

Despite its "faults" (which aren't all that insurmountable, if that word can be used here), this novel has brought me much joy and sparked my interest to see the world in a different way, or rather, continue to see the beauty of nature in different ways. ( )
  TechThing | Jan 25, 2021 |
Finished it, finally. Ugh. Magical realism as applied to science, and Germany. I have a vague idea what happened for most of it, I have no idea why, or why people said what they did, or what the point of the book was. I don't see how it's a comic novel, either, unless you enjoy laughing at obsessed people who can't handle society. Two scientists - I thought one was considerably older than the other, but by the end of the book they're apparently the same age. One is somewhat obsessive-compulsive - he explores vast areas of the world almost inch by inch, calculating the "true" location, elevation, etc of every stop. The other stays home and thinks about mathematics, and makes great discoveries that don't make any difference. After a while, they both start to hate dealing with people and do their best to avoid it. They also seem to start to blend in to one another, at the end. Eugen, once he's out from under his father's thumb, might be an interesting character or might go the same compulsive way as the other two - but all we get of him is one chapter at the end. I'm sorry I read it and I'll be more careful about picking books in the future. Yuck. The book I was actually looking for was The Measure Of All Things - going to read that now and wash this out of my brain. ( )
1 vote jjmcgaffey | Jan 18, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
En mesterlig bog om videnskabens begrænsninger og et must for alle, der vil underholdes på højt niveau.
added by 2810michael | editKristeligt Dagblad, Moritz Schramm
Han er som sine romanfigurer selv en lille smule genial, hvad kritikken i Tyskland for længst har bemærket. Man overgiver sig til denne romans makrokosmiske kortlægning med dens generøse blanding af løsagtighed og præcision. Og er mere end godt underholdt.
added by 2810michael | editInformation, Thomas Thurah
En million tyskere kan sagtens tage fejl. Men det gjorde de ikke, da de købte Daniel Kehlmanns drilske geniroman Opmålingen af verden (...) Kehlmann gør det fermt, sjovt og afsindig lærd.
added by 2810michael | editWeekendavisen, Joakim Jakobsen
I enhver henseende er bogen en storslået kunstnerisk og filosofisk bedrift af den kun 32-årige forfatter.
added by 2810michael | editJyllands-Posten, Johs. H Christensen

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kehlmann, Danielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Freij, Lars W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Janeway, Carol BrownTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noethen, UlrichNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nykyri, IlonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olivieri, PaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vogelaar, JacqTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Im September 1828 verließ der größte Mathematiker des Landes zum ersten Mal seit Jahren seine Heimatstadt, um am Deutschen Naturforscherkongreß in Berlin teilzunehmen.
In September, 1828, the greatest mathematician in the country left his hometown for the first time in years, to attend the German Scientific Congress in Berlin.
Ein Hügel, von dem man nicht wisse, wie hoch er sei, beleidige die Vernunft und mache ihn unruhig. Ohne stetig die eigene Position zu bestimmen, könne ein Mensch sich nicht fortbewegen. Ein Rätsel, wie klein auch immer, lasse man nicht am Wegesrand.
Der Pastor Blickte ihn streng an. Stolz sei eine Todsünde!
Der Pastor bat um Verzeihung. Er habe wohl falsch verstanden.
(...)Er meine es rein teologisch, sagte Gauß. Gott habe einen geschaffen, wie man sei, dann aber solle man sich ständig bei ihm dafür entschuldigen. Logisch sei das nicht.
Der Pastor äußerte die Vermutung, daß etwas mit seinen Ohren nicht stimme.
Gefragt, was er hier tue, erklärte er nervös die Technik der Triangulation.
Ein Dreieck, sagte sie, habe nur auf einer Fläche hundertachzig Grad Winkelsumme, auf einer Kugel aber nicht. Damit stehe und falle doch alles.
Er musterte sie, als sähe sie erst jetzt. Mit hochgezogenen Brauen erwiderte sie seinen Blick. Ja, sagte er. So. Um das auszugleichen, müsse man Dreiecke gewissermassen nach der Messung zu unendlich kleiner Größe schrumpfen lassen. Grundsätzlich eine einfache Differentialoperation. Allerdings in dieser Form .... (...) In dieser Form , murmelte er, whärend er zu notieren begann, habe das noch keiner durchgeführt. Als er aufsah, war er allein.
Als Humboldt kurz darauf seine Instrumente einpackte, wußte er, daß die Sonne am Tag des Solstitiums von der Chaussee aus gesehen genau über ser Spitze der größten Pyramide auf- und durch die Spitze der zweitgrößten unterging. Diese ganze Stadt war ein Kalender! Wer hatte das erdacht? Wie gut hatten die Menschen die Sterne gekannt, und was hatten sie mitteilen wollen? Seit über tausend Jahren war er der erste, der ihre Botschaft lesen konnte.
Writing a novel, said Humboldt, seemed to him the perfect way to capture the most fleeting essence of the present for the future. (pg 20)
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Towards the end of the 18th century, naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician and physicist, Carl Friedrich Gauss, set out to measure the world. This novel brings the two eccentric geniuses to life.

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