October Books 3) The Measure of All Things

3) The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World, by Ken Alder

This book about the two French scholars who were charged with measuring the shape of the earth in order to determine the true length of the metre (defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from pole to equator) is just about the right length for a three hour plane flight. It could have done with a wee bit more trimming, but the first half, describing the earnest efforts of Mechain and Delambre to carry out their measurements with the Revolution snowballing underneath them is superb. I would have liked more on Gauss and Legendre and the method of least squares. I did like his conclusion – that eventually Americans will officially adopt the metric system, not because the rest of the world has, but because Americans increasingly are doing so.

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