- 25,00 kr
Measuring the World recreates the parallel but contrasting lives of two geniuses of the German Enlightenment - the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss. Towards the end of the 18th century, these two brilliant young Germans set out to measure the world.
Humboldt, a Prussian aristocrat schooled for greatness, negotiates savannah and jungle, climbs the highest mountain then known to man, counts head lice on the heads of the natives, and explores every hole in the ground.
Gauss, a man born in poverty who will be recognised as the greatest mathematician since Newton, does not even need to leave his home in Göttingen to know that space is curved. He can run prime numbers in his head, cannot imagine a life without women and yet jumps out of bed on his wedding night to jot down a mathematical formula.
Measuring the World is a novel of rare charm and readability, distinguished by its sly humour and unforgettable characterization. It brings the two eccentric geniuses to life, their longings and their weaknesses, their balancing act between loneliness and love, absurdity and greatness, failure and success.
Loosely based on the lives of 19th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt and a contemporary, mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, Kehlmann's novel, a German bestseller widely heralded as an exemplar of "new" German fiction, injects musty history with shots of whimsy and irony. Humboldt voyages to South America to map the Orinoco River, climb the Chimborazo peak in Ecuador and measure "every river, every mountain and every lake in his path." Gauss is the hedgehog to Humboldt's fox, leaping out of bed on his wedding night to jot down a formula and rarely leaving his hometown of G ttingen. The two meet at a scientific congress in 1828, when Germany is in turmoil after the fall of Napoleon. Other luminaries appear throughout the novel, including a senile Immanuel Kant, Louis Daguerre and Thomas Jefferson. The narrative is notable for its brisk pacing, lively prose and wry humor (curmudgeonly Gauss laments, for instance, how "every idiot would be able to... invent the most complete nonsense" about him 200 years hence), which keenly complements Kehlmann's intelligent, if not especially deep, treatment of science, mathematics and reason at the end of the Enlightenment.