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Weighing the world : the quest to measure the Earth /
Edwin Danson.
imprint
New York : Oxford University Press, 2006.
description
x, 289 p. : ill.
ISBN
0195181697 (acid-free paper), 9780195181692 (acid-free paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Oxford University Press, 2006.
isbn
0195181697 (acid-free paper)
9780195181692 (acid-free paper)
catalogue key
5783910
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2006-07-01:
In 1774, a group of scientists led by Rev. Nevil Maskelyne and containing such diverse characters as Dr. James Lind, Mary Shelley's inspiration for Frankenstein, and the great geologist Charles Hutton set out on no less an undertaking than to weigh planet Earth. Maskelyne spent weeks on Scotland's storm-swept Schiehallion mountain measuring a plumb bob's very slight deflection from the vertical by gravitational attraction from the mountain's mass. A century earlier, Isaac Newton derived the formula showing that attraction between two bodies was related to their masses and the distance between them. Using a complex series of mathematical operations involving the size and probable mass of the mountain, the calculations were made. It was another 24 years before British physicist Henry Cavendish determined the value of the gravitational constant verifying their work. Aside from the description of a two-centuries-old experiment, the book is an interesting read because of Danson's colorful accounts of fascinating characters and events. Extensive chapter notes and bibliography will aid readers wanting to know more about this watershed experiment. By the way, Earth weighs about six sextillion metric tons--six followed by 21 zeros! Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates; faculty. C. G. Wood formerly, Eastern Maine Community College
Reviews
Review Quotes
Danson has an excellent feel for the practicalities of surveying ... he also has the makings of a good story.
It makes highly interesting reading for high school and college level students and a fine reference for individuals wishing to learn more about this important facet of science history - our civilization's attempt to measure accurately the longitude and latitude as a basis for accurate maps and to provide accurate specific locations for all types of research on Earth. Environmental Geology, (2006) 50: 1105-1106
MEASURING the shape of the world in the 18th century was a considerable adventure. Astronomers had to haul equipment to remote corners of the globe to look for its subtle deviations from a perfect sphere. This is history writ large, with a long list of characters, and a background of wars, where good maps could be the key to victory. Danson's narrative sometimes wanders, but his asides can be priceless, like his description of the first British balloonists to cross the EnglishChannel. To keep aloft they had to discard first ballast, then supplies, and ultimately most of their clothing. New Scientist USA Print Edition. January 2006.
"This fascinating account tells how in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the world was accurately measured, mapped and weighed for the first time."--John Muir Trust Journal
"This is history writ large, with a long list of characters, and a background of wars, where good maps could be the key to victory."--The New Scientist
"This fascinating account tells how in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the world was accurately measured, mapped and weighed for the first time."--John Muir Trust Journal"This is history writ large, with a long list of characters, and a background of wars, where good maps could be the key to victory."--The New Scientist
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, December 2005
San Francisco Chronicle, January 2006
Choice, July 2006
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
Calculating the weight of the Earth was one of the most significant scientific advances of the 18th century, one which revolutionised cartography & had vast implications for the nascent sciences of geology & astrophysics. A lonely mountain in Scotland became the subject of some of the most interesting study.
Long Description
Weighing the World is a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the scientific events leading to modern map making written by one of the world's master surveyors. Edwin Danson, using a similar approach to his earlier best seller, "Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Important Border in America" (Wiley, 2000) takes us on a journey telling the story of this experiment that has not been written about in over two hundred years. National jealousies, commercial and political rivalry were the underlying causes for many of the eighteenth century's wars but war also provided the stimulus for much commercial effort and scientific innovation. Armies equipped with the latest weaponry marched about the countryside, led by generals with only the vaguest of maps at their disposal. At the start of the century there were no maps, anywhere in the world. While there were plenty of atlases and sketch maps of countries, regions and districts, with few exceptions they were imperfect renditions in nature. No one knew, with any certainty the shape of the earth or what lay beneath its surface. Was it hollow or was it solid? Were the Andes the highest mountain on the Earth or was it the peak of Tenerife? Was the Earth a perfect sphere or was it slightly squashed as Sir Isaac Newton prophesized? Just how did you accurately measure the planet? The answers to these and other questions about the nature of the Earth, answers we now take for granted, were complete mysteries. Danson presents the stories of the scientists and scholars that had to scale the Andes, cut through tropical forests and how they handled the hardships they faced in the attempt to revolutionize our understanding ofthe planet.
Main Description
Weighing the World is a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the scientific events leading to modern map making written by one of the world's master surveyors. Edwin Danson, using a similar approach to his earlier best seller, "Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most ImportantBorder in America" (Wiley, 2000) takes us on a journey telling the story of this experiment that has not been written about in over two hundred years. National jealousies, commercial and political rivalry were the underlying causes for many of the eighteenth century's wars but war also provided thestimulus for much commercial effort and scientific innovation. Armies equipped with the latest weaponry marched about the countryside, led by generals with only the vaguest of maps at their disposal. At the start of the century there were no maps, anywhere in the world. While there were plenty ofatlases and sketch maps of countries, regions and districts, with few exceptions they were imperfect renditions in nature. No one knew, with any certainty the shape of the earth or what lay beneath its surface. Was it hollow or was it solid? Were the Andes the highest mountain on the Earth or wasit the peak of Tenerife? Was the Earth a perfect sphere or was it slightly squashed as Sir Isaac Newton prophesized? Just how did you accurately measure the planet? The answers to these and other questions about the nature of the Earth, answers we now take for granted, were complete mysteries.Danson presents the stories of the scientists and scholars that had to scale the Andes, cut through tropical forests and how they handled the hardships they faced in the attempt to revolutionize our understanding of the planet.
Main Description
Weighing the World is a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the scientific events leading to modern map making, written by one of the world's master surveyors. Edwin Danson, using a similar approach to his earlier best seller, "Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Important Border in America" (Wiley, 2000) takes us on a journey telling the story of this experiment that has not been written about in over two hundred years. National jealousies, commercial and political rivalry were the underlying causes for many of the eighteenth century's wars but war also provided the stimulus for much commercial effort and scientific innovation. Armies equipped with the latest weaponry marched about the countryside, led by generals with only the vaguest of maps at their disposal. At the start of the century there were no maps, anywhere in the world. While there were plenty of atlases and sketch maps of countries, regions and districts, with few exceptions they were imperfect renditions in nature. No one knew, with any certainty the shape of the earth or what lay beneath its surface. Was it hollow or was it solid? Were the Andes the highest mountain on the Earth or was it the peak of Tenerife? Was the Earth a perfect sphere or was it slightly squashed as Sir Isaac Newton prophesized? Just how did you accurately measure the planet? The answers to these and other questions about the nature of the Earth, answers we now take for granted, were complete mysteries. Danson presents the stories of the scientists and scholars that had to scale the Andes, cut through tropical forests and how they handled the hardships they faced in the attempt to revolutionize our understanding of the planet.
Table of Contents
Preface
I Cannot Be Wrong
The Titan King
A Calm And Gentle Character
The Galileo Of France
Extreme Science
Robberies And Depredations
A Magnificent Military Sketch
Persons Well Versed
Very Expert In His Business
A Passage With My Horse
Frankenstein And Other Experiments
A Remarkable Hill
Important Observations
So Great A Noise
The Attraction of Mountains
The Best Of The Position
Distinguished Merit
Late A Whole Year
Geodetic Experiments
I Know It Will Answer
Offering Violence To Nature
A Meritorious Foreigner
Men Worthy Of Confidence
Irregularities We Have Discovered
Explanations and Definitions
Bibliography
Footnotes
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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