The Measure of All Things

  • by Ken Alder
  • Narrated by Byron Jennings
  • 6 hrs and 10 mins
  • Abridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Amid the chaos of the French Revolution, two astronomers set out in opposite directions from Paris to measure the world, one voyaging north to Dunkirk, the other south to Barcelona. Their findings would help define the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator. The Measure of All Things is the astonishing story of one of history's greatest scientific quests, a mission to measure the Earth and define the meter for all nations and for all time. 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.

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What the Critics Say

"Reading much like a historical thriller...[this] is a fascinating and well-written work." (Library Journal)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Average

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.


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- Thomas

Top notch history of science. Horrible fake accent

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.
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- Jaded Buddha

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-04-2002
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio