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4.3 out of 5 stars15
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 April 2001
but luckily this is not entirely necessary for Mr Keay does attempt to initiate the novice with an understanding of the subject and ancillary sciences. However, through the mist of trigonometry and refraction coefficients, the author reveals a story of incredible human endeavour in measuring the spine and associated areas of India. The book paints vivid portraits of the two main architects; the modest William Lambton and the martinet George Everest. The personalities of these pioneers could not have been more different. However, both were men of integrity and both driven by a common, almost fanatical, dedication to the onerous task. A fine documentary, almost certainly the only readable account of the 'Great Trigonometrical Survey of India'.
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on 3 June 2012
I love narrative non-fiction and picked this book up thinking I'd find another gem of a story about how the shape of the earth has come to be known, something along the lines of Robert Whitaker's The Mapmaker's Wife. The book advertises itself as "the dramatic tale of how India was mapped and Everest was named," but there is hardly any drama in it. The narrative barely focuses on the characters and stories of the men, Lambton and Everest, but rather goes into exhaustive detail on the day to day mapping of the Great Trigonometrical Survey. But while the book could have focused on the difficulties, tragedies, and triumphs of mapping India, the story behind the survey; it instead reads page after page of endless accounts of setting up the instruments, problems with the instruments, and attempts to solve the problems. I found that without at least a basic background in trigonometry and geography, it was difficult to understand many of the chapters. However, what narrative bits the author did include were quite interesting and would have made a fascinating book had they been developed.
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on 25 April 2002
I've often wondered why Mount Everest was named so...what George Everest achieved in mapping a country as big as India is amazing. The challanges he faced along the way; malaria killing hundreds of men, unpredictable natives, and of course the climate, and how he overcame these problems is fascinating.
Overall the book gives a very good account of how important the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India was, and how accurate; the estimation of India's highest mountain over 150 years ago was only 100m off todays measurement by computers and satellites!
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on 16 November 2006
I've given this five stars, as I did not have a clue about the issues involved and the people concerned that this book concerns, before I picked it up.

The best thing about it is it brings back two people and their associates, who had attained oblivion, to a sort of immortality.

Lucidly written and easy to get through, the book comes from a specialist on India with some fine books to his credit including a major history of the sub-continent.

I think this book makes a fine gift, and I've already started giving away copies.

Rarely are the hidden chapters of history which would ordinarily be considered too dry to even bother with returned to consciousness. The adventure, effort and facts about Indian Geography including the Himalaya and the lives of expatriate Englishpeople, stiching up an Empire - it makes absorbing reading.
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on 22 February 2010
Trigonometry is a boring topic that we learn in school. The application in map-making is quite difficult, but also exciting, demanding and rewarding. Measuring angles accurately, required a theodolite weighing a ton. One needs a basic measure of length. But a metal chain gets worn out. Metal bars expand in warm temperature. How does one measure height in rough terrain, in an era when anaeroid barometers did not yet exist, and mecury filled tubes were too fragile to transport? The boiling point of water changes with altitude, so one only needs a thermometer for assessing heights!
Everest, one of the leaders of this expedition, saw his name given to the highest mountain in the world, but never came close to this mountain. India was mapped very precisely around 1800 by courageous and persistent men, fighting rough terrain, tigers, jungle, and wheather. It took many years and many lives.
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on 30 January 2014
John Keay's exhaustive research allows a vivid picture of the spirit of scientific enquiry and imperial drive leading to the massive and painstaking exercise of mapping the spine of India in the early 19th Century. In a very readable account he gives an idea of the physical and technical challenges of the undertaking, and the remarkable characters who undertook the task.

In particular he gives a very vivid and believable portrayal of the man most associated with the task, George Everest. He appears an irascible, arrogant and driven man who overrides ill health, native sensibilities and the difficulties of terrain and climate to finish the task, and ultimately, faut de mieux, to have his name attached to the world's highest mountain.

A pleasure to read, and again a reminder of how recently the physical world was unmapped, and health and safety concerns unheard of.
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on 26 June 2013
The Great Arc tells the painstaking story of the mapping of India that was necessitated by the need to have detailed maps once the focus of Great Britain and the East India Company shifted from trade and the coast to forms of governing. As elsewhere, this task was given to men with a militaary background - in this case William Lambton and George Everest. Rather like Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything, John Keay's account leaves you wondering at the sheer dogged determination of Victorians to take on and largely complete monumental tasks with a singularity of purpose. Lambton started the project in 1802 and it was still not yet completed by the time Everest retired in 1843. It was under Everest's successor, Andrew Waugh, that in 1855 the height of Peak XV was established and the mountain named after George Everest.
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on 14 January 2016
This tale of geodesy and trigonometry was always going to be difficult to render fascinating to the tired reader. I stuck with it, enjoying the occasional streaks of humour. I admired the achievements of Lambton and Everest and of the author, but I don't see myself buying this book as a present for anyone.
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on 1 October 2013
A fascinating book on how to measure huge areas very accurately allowing for expansion of the measuring "chain", the curvature of the earth and atmospheric deflection.
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on 25 December 2009
A fascinating tale of surveying, enterprise and wonderful standards of work at such an early stage in world discovery.

a great read.
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