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The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600
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The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  164 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
The Measure of Reality discusses the epochal shift from qualitative to quantitative perception in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This shift made modern science, technology, business practice, and bureaucracy possible. It affected not only the obvious - such as measurements of time and space and mathematical technique - but, equally and simultan ...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published September 22nd 2010 by Cambridge University Press (first published January 1st 1988)
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John David
W. H. Auden once said that we live societies “to which the study of that which can be weighed and measured is a consuming love” – but that hasn’t always been the case. The science of Aristotle, arguably the biggest influence on post-Hellenic science west of the Levant, was thoroughly qualitative. Only later, after the rediscovery of the Plato whose fascination with numbers and ratios bordered on worship, did science begin to take on a properly quantitative quality. As the subtitle of the book hi ...more
This book is an incoherent mess. Buried somewhere among the thickets of impenetrable prose, run-on sentences and sundry atrocities against the English language is a semi-decent idea. But Alfred W. Crosby sorely lacks the skills to bring it to light.

It's rare that a book can actually make me flinch, but AWC managed it on every other page. Two sample paragraphs convey the flavor of the writing:

Pantometry is one of the neologisms that appeared in increasing numbers in the languages of Europe in
Jim Tucker
Jun 06, 2012 Jim Tucker rated it really liked it
A very interesting treatise on the development of "measurement" in the Western world. The book provides a convincing explanation of how the West became the world's powerhouse within several centuries by evolving from a qualitative society to a quantitative society, thus enabling it to be productive in areas that provided the base for modern economics. While it may seem that such a development was in all ways positive, there have been obvious negative consequences, which may or may not be resolva ...more
Oct 24, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it
Crosby is a great history writer. His narrative is concise and engaging, yet he works in the occasional historical tangent to lighten things up. As we discussed in our history book club, our estimated direct impact of the topics discussed in the book on geopolitical outcomes is somewhere between 4 - 7% (not even close to geography, resources, and general luck). In short, the topics Crosby deals with here are more likely to be effects than causes of the rise of "The West."

This in no way should d
Ed Fonseca
Feb 22, 2015 Ed Fonseca rated it it was ok
From page 134:

Reading was also laborious: there were few or no divisions between words, and when scribes did leave spaces, they did so not necessarily after every word but wherever was comfortable for them, whether convenient for the reader or not.

That's a bit how it feels to read this book from the very first pages. Entire pages could have easily been condensed into one paragraph, as the author meanders along. Utterly, unnecessarily, incredibly verbose writing.
Jul 26, 2008 Alain rated it it was amazing

Tout bon citoyen devrait lire ce livre. Il est essentiel pour savoir comment comprendre la nature de la Science et comment voter. C'est un livre qui explique les fondements de notre société technologique, en nous parlant de la naissance de la quantification au 13e siècle.


Any good citizen should read this book. It is essential in order to know the nature of Science, and who to vote for. It's about the birth of quantification in the 13th century, where you find the very basis of our modern t
Mark Hansen
Feb 02, 2015 Mark Hansen rated it liked it
For those interested in the transitions made between medieval Europe and the Renaissance, this book is rather enlightening. Beyond that, I don't see why you might want to read this. Some of the author's points are very interesting, but others seem rather speculative. For those purely interested in the history and not the philosophy and ideologies, Wikipedia should suffice.
Douglas Summers-Stay
Jan 18, 2016 Douglas Summers-Stay rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a history of how Western Europe became quantified. At the beginning of the period the only measure of a day was morning, evening, and night, and at the end hours and minutes were commonly used. Similar transformations happened in mapmaking, painting, music, and so forth. I didn't feel like he developed much of a thesis, but many of the examples were interesting.
Jan 28, 2016 Kip rated it it was amazing
A very intellectual book, somewhat expecting the reader to understand medieval European History, but very interesting for me personally. it shows how significant changes in thought processes occur over time. The discussion of bookkeeping, the last chapt
Jan 18, 2012 Nathan rated it liked it
The growth of measurement culture in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Lots of talk about perspective in painting, doubleentry bookkeeping, musical notation etc and so on. Brief, but not without insights. Rated G. 3/5
Lee Evans
Oct 28, 2015 Lee Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Definitely interesting. highly recommended for anyone who has an interesting history or just knowing why things are the way they are. you might look at the title and think, boy that sounds like a dull book. Don't make that mistake! Seriously, you'll like it!
Michael Kubat
Nov 18, 2012 Michael Kubat rated it it was amazing
Anyone who seriously wants to understand why Europe and its offshoots surged so far ahead of the rest of the world in the past several centuries must read this book.
Oct 18, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it
A fascinating and unique account of how scientific thinking matters so much and the way It has shaped everything we now take for granted.
Nov 28, 2011 Kori rated it really liked it
I've been reading this book for at least 2 years; I'm sure that I'll re-read it when I finish. It's thought-provoking and enlightening, and great for conversations.
Jul 01, 2008 Onebrownjeff is currently reading it
Quantitative developments in Conceptual thinking, learning and mapping allowed Western Europe to jump from worst to first over the last half a millennium or so.
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