A Measure of All Things: The Story of Man and Measurement Paperback – 30 Mar 2007
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
New Scientist The ideal book for quiz buffs --New Scientist
BBC Focus This curious little book is neither a reference work with comprehensive and precise conversion tables, nor a rambling discursive treatise. Rather, it takes the form of a guidebook to the world of weights and measures --BBC Focus
Good Book Guide This is a fascinating and orderly compilation of different forms of measurement. --Good Book Guide
Top customer reviews
- Volume and capacity
- Force and pressure
- Energy and power
- A measurement miscellany (measuring firewood, ring sizes, and such more)
There's a very logical progression to the whole story (after all, you have to be able to measure length before you can measure area - even I can see the logic in that), and in each chapter Whitelaw admirably succeeds in describing the fascinating history of the subject, introducing his reader into as miscellaneous matters as the furlong, the nautical mile, a parsec, shotgun barrels, the gauge of railroad tracks, paper sizes, hogsheads and barrels, the kelvin scale, lunar years, the difference between speed and velocity, and so on and so forth...
I'm aware that to some all the above is part of their daily lives and to them this book probably contains nothing that they weren't aware of already, but to me it was endlessly fascinating. Whitelaw succeeds in explaining it all in a very simple manner (i.e. comprehensible to science dummies such as myself) and does so in a charming tongue-in-cheek style. I both learned a lot and was charmed and amused along the way, which is something that until now I only ever experienced with history books.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
In some cases the writer mentions interesting facts, but gives no explanation. For example, thickness gauges often measure decreasing thickness as the gauge number increases, the opposite of what one might expect. He mentions one possible explanation in passing, but why not find out the real reason and tell us? He also lists model railway scales as "O", "OO", "N", "T" and so on, but does not explain how those designations came about.
In another place he describes the names for wine bottles - magnum, jeroboam etc, but says nothing about who chose such names and when.
Similarly, the story of how prefixes like "yotta" and "zepto" got their names is interesting, but you won't find the story in this book.
These examples aptly illustrate the shallowness of the book. A myriad of interesting topics are presented in convenient "bites" so that readers can graze, rather than actually read the book.
Some readers may prefer that approach. But I think most readers want more than just snippets of raw information in a book of this nature. We want information that has been analysed and put into perspective, with comparisons made and conclusions drawn.
Then information becomes knowledge, something more than just the sum of individual facts. It is also what separates good writers from clerks trawling through Google search results.
I was also surprised that Whitelaw did not mention the most spectacular recent example illustrating the need to get units of measurement right. NASA officials found that the $125 million Mars Polar Orbiter launched some years ago burned up on impact with the thin Martian atmosphere because two navigation teams and their computers had confused English and metric units.
There are errors on page 115. Whitelaw says that a body in free fall under the influence of gravity experiences no forces. That is incorrect. A body in free fall accelerates due to the force of gravity. He then gives a wrong explanation for the "vomit comet" used by NASA to simulate weightlessness. Weightlessness occurs at the top of a carefully flown arc, not as the plane accelerates downwards as Whitelaw says.
The book is only 160 pages, much of it diagrams, so there was plenty of scope for more explanatory material to be included. In fact, if you took out the diagrams, there are probably only 60 or so pages of text, making it more of a pamphlett than a book. The paper is thick, presumably to add bulk and fool the buyer into thinking he has received value for money.
The use of diagrams and graphical flourishes is grossly overdone, probably to pad out the book to an almost-respectable size. An acre is described at length in the text on the measurement of area, so there is hardly any need for a large diagram of a bare rectangle to show the proportions of an acre.
The colour for the text has been poorly chosen. Instead of the usual black print one is accustomed to see, the publishers have chosen a dark bluish-grey font. It is readable (but uncomfortable) in good daylight, but difficult to read in anything but the brightest artificial light.
The font and the graphic design with all its diagrams look good, but aesthetic factors seem to have triumphed over content.
The bottom line: Broad in scope but shallow in depth. Barely worth the money.
If you are at all interested in how things are measured or where they got the idea for such and such way to measure something than I recommend you simply buy this fun book.
I keep it in my classroom for my students to read when they get done early. They like it too. Nicely illustrated, easy to access.
Look for similar items by category