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Weighing the World: The Quest to Measure the Earth Hardcover – 1 Dec 2005
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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.
Weaves geography, geology, earth history, and exploration into a story about an important experiment that changed how we map the earth.
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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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