Friday, September 14, 2007

Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann

"You always understood more than what you know" says the prince of mathematics to the king of the seas, two very different scientists are about to meet at a conference in Berlin in 1828. Arguably a literary sensation of 2007, this book was recommended to me by Srihari and it indeed was a good recommendation.

Based on the lives of 19th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt and a contemporary, mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, Kehlmann's novel, takes us through the lifes of these extra ordinary induviduals through their journey ; one around the world, and the other to his inner world of mathematics.

Humboldt, a mine-inspectors travels across the South American continent "measuring every river, mountain , and lake". While Gauss, a mathematician , never stepped out of his small town of Göttingen , measure and mark the little county as land surveyer for a living. While Humboldt corrects the wrongs done by his predecessors on the the hieghts , distance and the maps and climbs the popularity chart as a legend in this field , the other gets through the complications of mathematical formula ( he even leaping out of bed on his wedding night to write down a formula) and other scientific discoveries in his home country , gets to a cult figure with his odd mannerisms and remarks.

Two very different scientists are about to meet at a conference in Berlin in 1828. The prince of mathematics and the emperor of the voyage. As Humboldt doubts, one could no longer have said which of them had travelled afarand who stayed at home ( the one staring throught the telescope at heavenly bodies from his small room or the one who travelled across continent making it his home wherever he had been) ?

A very well writtten book and with crisp pace, this book will attract any serious reader with its underlying humour and charecterisation.

Measuring the World
Daniel Kehlmann translated by Carol Brown Janeway
Published by Quercus, London
Rs 395 Hardcover

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