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Weighing the World: The Quest to Measure the Earth Hardcover – 1 Dec 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (1 Dec. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195181697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195181692
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 2.3 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,678,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Danson has an excellent feel for the practicalities of surveying ... he also has the makings of a good story. (John North, Times Literary Supplement)

It makes highly interesting reading for high school and college level students and a fine reference for individuals wishing to learn more about this important facet of science history - our civilization's attempt to measure accurately the longitude and latitude as a basis for accurate maps and to provide accurate specific locations for all types of research on Earth. Environmental Geology, (2006) 50: 1105-1106

MEASURING the shape of the world in the 18th century was a considerable adventure. Astronomers had to haul equipment to remote corners of the globe to look for its subtle deviations from a perfect sphere. This is history writ large, with a long list of characters, and a background of wars, where good maps could be the key to victory. Danson's narrative sometimes wanders, but his asides can be priceless, like his description of the first British balloonists to cross the English Channel. To keep aloft they had to discard first ballast, then supplies, and ultimately most of their clothing. New Scientist USA Print Edition. January 2006.

About the Author

Edwin Danson is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors. He is the author of Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 6 July 2016
By David Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Arrived in better condition than advertised.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How big exactly is the world? 5 Dec. 2013
By Rob - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating story of the mathematical quest to establish the size, mass, dimensions of our planet, by pioneers of geophysics. I gave my copy to a friend who loves it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Even For Non-Math Majors 27 Dec. 2011
By Cassandra_was_right - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author is clearly an expert in his subjects' fields, so much of his descriptions of their meticulous work might be lost on the reader who, like me, is not a geographer, not an astronomer, and possesses only rudimentary math skills. Even so, I could not put this book down. The drive to measure the world precisely, to figure out where exactly everything is, makes sense, but the actual painstaking process of doing that is something I admit to never having given much thought before, and here it comes across both clearly and compellingly. The wonderful characters who propelled this effort forward are described sparely but precisely; the early deaths of crabby, racist, complex-ridden mathematicians should not feel like tragedy, but in this book they do. And because this book details the actual measuring processes - processes not included in other histories of geography and cartography - it fills a unique niche. I'm very glad I read it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Documented history in a readable prose 30 Aug. 2014
By Traveler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A remarkable book, addictive notwithstanding the huge amount of historical facts that the author displays packed in nearly 280 pages. Every page is full of data for the human struggle for knowledge in the XVIII century. Highly recommendable.
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