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Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy
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Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  220 ratings  ·  33 reviews
In 1790, America was in enormous debt, having depleted what little money and supplies the country had during its victorious fight for independence. Before the nation's greatest asset, the land west of the Ohio River, could be sold it had to be measured out and mapped. And before that could be done, a uniform set of measurements had to be chosen for the new republic out of ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Plume (first published 2002)
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Emmett Hoops
This was one of those books that added much to my understanding of America. Every time I look at a map of the U.S., I marvel at the number of small towns in the South, and the relative paucity of them in the North. I wondered why the Western states all have boundaries that can be drawn with a ruler, a few quite nearly square, while none east of the Mississippi have that characteristic. I wondered how in the world anyone surveyed the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina: it is, after all, ...more
Jeff Waltersdorf
An intriguing accounting of the surveying of the United States, carving wilderness into sellable blocks of land. A bit dry in the recounting of history, it is peppered with interesting anecdotes of the surveyors themselves, including how pirates of the Caribbean kept the United States from becoming metric. Even the tangents into the invention of the metric system, versus the growth of the English/Imperial measurement system, and decimal versus fractional based measurement, come back into play th ...more
Marina Mowrey
This was really interesting, but the title is a little misleading. And actually, my book calls it "Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History," which is also misleading. It's more like "Measuring America: How the Act of Surveying Land in Early America was Affected By, and In Turn Affected, Many Measuring Systems" or something. It is more interesting than I just made it sound, and gave a different perspective on some events I already knew a bit about. ...more
Mike Ogilvie
A fascinating look into the unique circumstance the United States found itself in in its infancy. What do you do with a vast wilderness of land that was growing in fits and bounds by settlement, legislation, conquest, and treaty?

Having the need to measure the new land, the powers that be (Congress, the President, and his cabinet) needed to figure out just how to get that done. It became a huge opportunity to bring together the unbelievably chaotic units of measurement available at the time (e.g.
...more
Todd Martin
Property ownership has been at the heart of the American dream since the countries inception (life, liberty and property) and represented a significant difference from the English system with its feudal system. But you can’t have property ownership without a system of surveyance which allows property boundaries to be established so that land may be bought and sold. “Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy” by Andro Linklater te ...more
Tracey
This was a pass-along from my mom, I think; tho the subtitle is intriguing enough for me to have spent the $2.00 on it at Borders before they closed.

However, the subtitle is a bit misleading. Linklater actually starts the book with a review of the history of measurement, before getting into how measuring land gave mankind a sense of ownership and dominion; starting with Great Britain and carrying over to the colonies that became the United States of America. Along the way, he delves into the hi
...more
Eric
Forget the subtitle, Linklater tells the story of how the American land was surveyed and brought from unknown, unmeasured, and unsaleable to known, quantified, and commodified...from land to property. Along the way, learn how Jefferson almost suc...ceeded in moving us to a decimal-based metric system; why the North beyond the 13 colonies is marked by grids and straight lines and the South is not, and how that has shaped the redeeming values of the former and the corrosive character of the latter ...more
Alasdair Craig
A wonderful book, marvellously told, detailing from a surveyor's perspective the relentless westward expansion of the US states in the early years of America. Intertwined with this story is also the story of the metric system, and how America came so close to being one of the first to adopt it. Whether you're pro-metric or traditional you can appreciate the sympathetic way Linklater discusses both.
Ron
I had been meaning to read this book for a couple of years now and finally got to it. Liz gave it to me because it's related to Geography. A great non-fiction book that takes from 1500's Europe to America and how the practice of surveying and the science of Geodesy developed. The author has really done his reasearch on this one. It weaves the trials and tribulations of early American land surveyors and the political struggle for standardized weights and measures in America and throughout the wor ...more
Craig Stratton
This is a very interesting book for anyone interested in American History, but especially to those who make their living as Land Surveyors. I find it fascinating how the wilderness of America was able to be mapped, sometimes accurately, sometimes not, but men and technology so far removed from the current equipment we have today. This book also goes into detail how the concept of measuring and selling land was so foreign to the native americans and how the settlers used that to their advantage w ...more
Kevin Kasowski
the writing isn't always fluid and the narrative kind of wanders back and forth across time periods which I found a bit confusing but this book isn't as boring as it might sound. The subtitle part was the most interesting to me, i.e., the backstory to the surveying of America was the long-running battle between Thomas Jefferson (who believed in small farmers owning their land) and Robert Morris and others, who were devout speculators and absentee landlords. How the lines were drawn (or not) had ...more
Roger
Fascinating though pretty geeky book. It describes how, in the late 1700s and 1800s, the U.S. developed a then-new approach to land ownership, and how that approach of private ownership forced people to come up with ways to accurately measure land. It then talks in great detail about how land measurement techniques evolved from medieval Britain, how the US almost came to adopt the metric system, and the like. All of this is intermixed with the historical discussion of how and when the U.S west o ...more
Todd Van Meter
I've read this book three times and find it just as fascinating with each subsequent reading as I did with the first. If you have any curiosity regarding how the USA came to use our current uniform system of weights, measurements, and coinage then this book is mandatory reading. The book also includes a very interesting explanation of the origin of the public land survey system and demonstrates the true genius of Thomas Jefferson.
William
Fascinating read. It amazes me how we measure things truly matters and affects the psyche and culture of a nation as it grows and lives today. This books goes into a lot of detail, more than some may care for, but it's not overly academic either as not to be accessible or not interesting. It also talks about more than just the United States, despite what the title and subtitle say.
Michael Hinsley
Absolutely brilliant. While not the most fluid of writers, Linklater handles a tough subject well. A positively enlightening essay on the cartography of the U.S. I even had to throw out several of my most cherished prejudices regarding the Mid west and connecting regions. Is nothing sacred? Truly delightful, worthy of a re-reading, and further treatments.
Nikki
Jan 17, 2008 Nikki rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in American history
Shelves: history, just-read
I learned quite a lot about the metric system from this book, which was not something I expected. However, my wish to learn more about the surveying of the western U.S. (starting in East Liverpool, Ohio) was fulfilled and I learned about a lot of interesting characters along the way.
Christopher
A fun book, if a little unfocused. I feel like I would have enjoyed this more if I had grown up or lived in the Northwest Territories or mid-west in general. Since I am very much a New Englander, I just don't see the effect of these land survels on my land.
Rita
Feb 09, 2010 Rita added it
Fascinating story of how our world (US) was divided. It answers so many questions about county road, townships, rangelines, Gunter's chain (for those in Forestry). Also, how important standardized weights and measures are and have always been to countries.
Kerry
I loved the history of weights and measurements. Also learned extensively about Gunter's chain. I did find myself drifting in this audio book since it is very geeky and science based. You have to be into the concept of land surveying to finish this one.
Joe Paulk
Interesting and unique topic that is certainly very informative. The dominant weakness is not one of structure or scholarship, but the simple fact that measuring land can only be injected with so much flair. Still, it is worth having on the bookshelf.
David R.
A very solid study of surveying and geodysy in the American experience, with special emphasis on several seminal figures. Linklater gets a bit whiny about the metric system in the last chapter, but that is the only important defect.
Matthew
A must read for anyone who loves geography. Tells the intertwining tale of the failed attempt to develope a decimalized system of measurement in america and the surveying and sale of public lands in America.
Imre Sutton
A fascinating evaluation of the role of mapping as a preclude to the occupation of the country. Should be read sequentially with Linklater's other volume, The Fabric of America.
Bob
Starts slow, but turns out to be a somewhat interesting look at how America turned into a country of square miles.
Tyler
Fantastic well balanced history of the land purchase in America. A different way to look at American history.
Paul
Fascinating book. It is hard to imagine how innacurate measurements of everything were until the 1800's
Marsha Moyer
One of my all time favorites. Very interesting take on how the US grew after the Revoluntionary War.
Alda
I think this book is great, it gives you a lot of history information.
Patrick
More precisely, it was a history of weights and measures in Europe and America.
Oswald
on the territorial expansion of the United States.
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“Below the roads run the surveyors' lines which squared off the wilderness, and not only made it ready for sale but constructed a shape for county and state government.” 0 likes
“And that survey is the one we all go back to. When you find one of their original corners, it is like a handshake with the past.” 0 likes
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