Tag: Carl Friedrich Gauss

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Posted December 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 4 Comments

Measuring the World by Daniel KehlmannTitle: Measuring the World (Goodreads)
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Translator: Carol Brown Janeway
Published: Quercus, 2005
Pages: 259
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

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.