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Measuring America Hardcover – 15 Jul 2002

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From the Back Cover

'Like most visitors to the United States,' writes Andro Linklater, 'it was the shape of the place I first fell in love with – the spectacular grid of city blocks, the squared-off American Gothic farms, and the long straight roads that caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac and every drive-movie director you can think of. It has always struck me as utterly astonishing that such a coherent pattern could have occurred across a three-thousand-mile continent. How did it happen? Who shaped the gigantic land?

'Measuring America' sets out to answer these questions in lucid and graphic terms. In May 1785 Congress authorised the survey and sale of the land west of the Ohio River. In what proved to be the greatest property deal of all time, the US government eventually measured out and sold over a billion acres stretching from Canada to Mexico. The grid it imposed upon the unmapped land determined the configuration of states, counties, farms and towns. Not only was the American landscape shaped for ever – so was the American psyche.

The hero of this mighty enterprise was the wayward seventeenth-century British genius Edmund Gunter, whose twenty-two-yard chain imprinted its dimensions on every parcel of land in the United States. It was the means by which wilderness was turned into private property. 'Measuring America' is a brilliant exploration of the colossal power of measurement.

About the Author

Andro Linklater has been a writer for twenty years. He is the author of The Black Watch (with his father, Eric Linklater); Charlotte Despard: A Life; Compton Mackenzie: A Life (winner of the Scottish Arts Council Biography of the Year Award); Wild People: Travels with Borneo’s Head Hunters; and The Code of Love (Weidenfeld 2000).


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kurt A. Johnson on 21 Jan. 2003
Format: Hardcover
In this fascinating book, author Andro Linklater examines how the measuring of land developed, and how the thought-forms that it gave rise to shaped the subsequent development of the United States. You see, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the English aristocracy began enclosing their land, and changing how it was used. As such, it became necessary to measure the land accurately for the owner. And when England began to plant colonies in the New World, these colonists began to see the land not as something belonging to the Crown or the community, but as individual kingdoms, where the owner was sovereign. This gave rise to a uniquely American way of looking at land and the individual.
I don't doubt that the summary above will suggest that this book is a dull and boring analysis of an unimportant historical detail, but this is hardly the case. Mr. Linklater succeeds is writing a fascinating history, that also makes a very persuasive case for his view of history. Though it is a bit long, and begins to drag towards the end, I did enjoy reading this book, and highly recommend it. In particular, I was astonished to read about the development of the metric system, how the United States was nearly the first country to implement it (after France, of course), and what happened.
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