on 21 December 2013
Weighing the World
The title of this book is misleading as the closest the content comes to `Weighing the World' is the revelation that the earth has a density equal to 5.448 times that of water! Admittedly this conclusion was the result of extensive experimentation and land surveying over three centuries but a more appropriate title would have been `Measuring the World'.
Notwithstanding this point, the book is still an informative read as it describes in great detail the efforts of numerous individuals, mainly during the 18th century, to evolve techniques for accurately measuring distances on land and in the process determining the likely shape of the earth. This historical account is given against the backdrop of warfare between various nations, the execution of which was hindered by the absence of accurate maps. However the main theme is the individuals involved who were from a wide range of social and educational backgrounds and hence extremely competitive in their endeavours, to the extent of sometimes taking credit for the work of others to advance their personal status.
The book is well researched albeit somewhat lacking in detail about the actual methods used to achieve the measurements, although there are occasional sketches throughout and an appendix giving explanations and definitions of terms referred to in the text. As the author advises, the subject of surveying can become complex so perhaps the book is pitched at the correct level for the casual reader.
As a historical account of the trials and tribulations of those who laid the foundations of modern mapping and geodesy, this book is an interesting read and would be worth a higher rating if it has a more realistic price tag.