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Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our Worldby Larrie D. Ferreiro
Synopses & Reviews
In the early eighteenth century, at the peak of the Enlightenment, an unlikely team of European scientists and naval officers set out on the world’s first international, cooperative scientific expedition. Intent on making precise astronomical measurements at the Equator, they were poised to resolve one of mankind’s oldest mysteries: the true shape of the Earth.
In Measure of the Earth, award-winning science writer Larrie D. Ferreiro tells the full story of the Geodesic Mission to the Equator for the very first time. It was an age when Europe was torn between two competing conceptions of the world: the followers of René Descartes argued that the Earth was elongated at the poles, even as Isaac Newton contended that it was flattened. A nation that could accurately determine the planet’s shape could securely navigate its oceans, giving it great military and imperial advantages. Recognizing this, France and Spain organized a joint expedition to colonial Peru, Spain’s wealthiest kingdom. Armed with the most advanced surveying and astronomical equipment, they would measure a degree of latitude at the Equator, which when compared with other measurements would reveal the shape of the world. But what seemed to be a straightforward scientific exercise was almost immediately marred by a series of unforeseen catastrophes, as the voyagers found their mission threatened by treacherous terrain, a deeply suspicious populace, and their own hubris.
A thrilling tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, Measure of the Earth recounts the greatest scientific expedition of the Enlightenment through the eyes of the men who completed it—pioneers who overcame tremendous adversity to traverse the towering Andes Mountains in order to discern the Earth’s shape. In the process they also opened the eyes of Europe to the richness of South America and paved the way for scientific cooperation on a global scale.
Book News Annotation:
The Geodesic Mission to the Equator in the early 18th century was the world's first international scientific expedition, for the purpose of making precise astronomical measurements at the Equator and finding the true shape of the earth. Ferreiro, who was an on-screen historical consultant to a BBC documentary about the Geodesic Mission, describes the mission as a tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, and shows how the mission was threatened by a series of external and internal catastrophes: treacherous terrain and inhospitable natives in colonial Peru, and the explorers' own weak leadership, greed, and contempt for locals and their customs. The book includes b&w historical illustrations and maps. Ferreiro has written several other books on the history of science and technology. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
An award-winning historian of science reveals the riveting and little-known story of a team of eighteenth-century European scientists that journeyed to South America to calculate the shape of the earth.
In the 18th century, Europes scientific community was torn between two opposing theories: Descartes argument that the Earth was spherical, and Newtons contention that it was flattened at the poles. Recognizing that the answer was the key to securely navigating the earths oceans, France and Spain organized a joint expedition to colonial Peru. Their goal was to measure a degree of latitude at the Equator; by comparing this measurement to one taken back in Europe, they would be able to determine the planets shape and put an end to the debate. But what seemed a straightforward scientific exercise was almost immediately marred by a series of unforeseen catastrophes: treacherous terrain, deeply suspicious locals, and the voyagers own hubris. A thrilling tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, Larrie D. Ferreiros Measure of the Earth recounts the greatest scientific exhibition of the Enlightenment through the eyes of the men who completed it—pioneers who overcame tremendous adversity to traverse the towering Andes Mountains and discern the Earths true shape.
In the early eighteenth century, European thinkers were torn between Descartes' notion that the earth was spherical and Newton's contention that it was flattened at the poles. Eager to reap the great military and imperial advantages of knowing the earth's exact shape, France and Spain sent an expedition of scientists and naval officers to colonial Peru to measure the degree of equatorial latitude, which could resolve the debate. But what seemed to be a straightforward survey down the Andes was quickly marred by catastrophe.
InMeasure of the Earth, award-winning science writer Larrie D. Ferreiro tells the full story of the Geodesic Mission for the first time, describing the remarkable scientific expedition through the eyes of the men who served on it.
About the Author
Andrés Reséndez, author ofA Land So Strange
“The greatest achievement of Larrie D. Ferreiro’s wonderful book is to walk us with perfect ease through remote locales and arcane subjects. Mr. Ferreiro seems no less at home in Guayaquil than in Paris or London and no less lucid in explaining the debates over the shape of the earth between Newtonians and Cartesians than in describing the intrigues surrounding the French Academy or the excruciating logistics of a scientific mission unfolding in colonial South America.”
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