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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

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  125 ratings  ·  19 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 December 13th 1997 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
The entire theme being discussed which interested me is humanity's move from valuing qualities to a world culture of valuing quantities. I've read Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in pursuit of the question; Why does the West have so much and how did they get it?" Diamond does an excellent job of explaining everything but the origins of those "advantages".

Here's where Crosby gives us the "backstory". It's a magnificent journey through time, history, and the minds of people living from
Ed Fonseca
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.
Jim Tucker
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
Mark Hansen
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.
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

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
Charles Pearce
The chapter on time is almost perfect. It hits a deep and abiding nerve in me.
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
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.
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.
Michael Kubat
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.
A fascinating and unique account of how scientific thinking matters so much and the way It has shaped everything we now take for granted.
This book is very pragmatic for historical purposes, but is at some points dull and superfluous.
Yoonho Choi
too much descriptive. good as a reference for 'history of mearuring' in the West
i love this book. The guy is so excited about his subject.
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