Yet when Ken Alder located the long-lost correspondence between the two men, along with their mission logbooks, he stumbled upon a 200-year-old secret. The meter, it turns out, is in error. One of the two astronomers, Pierre-François-André Méchain, made contradictory measurements from Barcelona and, in a panic, covered up the discrepancy. The guilty knowledge of his misdeed drove him to the brink of madness, and ultimately to his death. Only then did his partner, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, discover the truth and face a fateful choice: what matters more, the truth or the appearance of the truth?
This is a story of two men, a secret, and a timeless human dilemma: is it permissible to perpetuate a small lie in the service of a larger truth? In The Measure of All Things Ken Alder describes a quest that succeeded even as it failed. It is a story for all people, for all time.
©2002 Ken Alder, All Rights Reserved; (P)2002 Simon & Schuster Inc., All Rights Reserved, AUDIOWORKS Is an Imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster Inc.
"Reading much like a historical thriller...[this] is a fascinating and well-written work." (Library Journal)
I've read a number of non-fiction narratives. This one is very average. The subject matter is difficult to get very excited about. It may be the abridgement that has detracted from the work of the author. Many times it is the side stories and facts that I find most fascinating. Those stories are not in this recording. It is like the difference between a newspaper account and being at an event. I picked up a copy of the book at work one day and started reading through it. All of the little stories I found enlightening were left out of the abridged version. This book does a good job of dealing with the primary storyline involving the measurement of the earth to determine the size of the meter. Beyond that, I found the narrative not very interesting.
This is pretty high level history of science, linking significant changes in scientific practice with other historical changes. Alder argues that the transition to standardized metric measures in revolutionary France was largely driven by enlightenment and revolutionary politics. The book is well written and argued. It's accessible but based on the author's academic scholarship.
The audiobook reader would have been excellent if only he had not assumed a totally ridiculous fake French accent for quotations. The accent is a distracting joke. Think of Inspector Clouseau or John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Funny in those movies, yes, but only irritating here. Terrible decision that harmed an otherwise fine reading performance.
...this ain't it. Silly accents by the narrator (!!!) not withstanding, the story of science at the time of the French revolution, and the study and later transformation of the meter is really cool. But instead of trying to let that stand on its own, the author looks to draw a much greater sort of story that tries to wrestle with the meaning of error. It doesn't work. It doesn't work because the two stories are sort of footnotes to one another, and an exploration of the idea the book purports to would take much more than a disinterested chapter at the end. It's a shame, really, because there are so many neat-o components to this topic.
I listened to this story and I couldn't understand why it was worthy of a book. It's an unremarkable story that might be of great interest to a scientest, but no one else. It's also slightly difficult to follow. The book description claims it was the author who discovered that the meter was incorrectly measured 200 years ago, but that's not the case. It was known among scientests long ago. As I read it I kept waiting for a turn in the story that would tell me why this was made into a book, but it never came.
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