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Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  65 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
How do you measure the size of the planet you’re standing on?

“Circumference" is the story of what happened when one man asked himself that very question. Nicholas Nicastro brings to life one of history's greatest experiments when an ancient Greek named Eratosthenes first accurately determined the distance around the spherical earth. In this fascinating narrative history, N
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 25th 2008 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2008)
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Oct 18, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
More like 3.5. Fascinating and educational for a layperson like me, but I felt it was bloated. Yes, Eratosthenes was covered--even with the sketchy information on his life from the Suda [the Byzantine encyclopedia] and what his conclusions on geodesy--shape of the earth and its circumference--were and how he reached them. The earth as a globe was only one out of several theories current at that time. It was amazing that he reached pretty accurate conclusions using only primitive surveying techni ...more
Jul 23, 2009 James rated it liked it
This is another of that group of books of which Longitude is probably the most famous example. Nicholas Nicastro explores the history of the idea of the circumference of the globe. It is a journey that starts with questions raised by an ancient Greek named Eratosthenes, about whom we learn a great deal more than his discovery of circumference, and doesn't end until almost two thousand years later. For those who love the history of science and how ideas develop it is a great read. Enjoy!
Aug 15, 2013 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: from-library
A great magazine article buried in a book worth of padding.
Nov 01, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
This is a very readable account of the times of Eratosthenes. It is filled with a lot of information, not just about Eratosthenes but about the times and the state of science. I sometimes don’t read the preface but this time I’m glad I did. It gave me some insight into how the author approached the topic that I thought it was useful to have. Even though I did find all the information I was reading interesting I did start to wonder when Eratosthenes was going to show up in this book but when he ...more
Jun 07, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing
My favorite kind of history books are those that are short and to-the-point: Describe a person, event, or object, explain where it came from, what it did - and why it is so important. DeKay's Monitor comes to mind, as does Sobel's Longitude. Nicastro's book fits neatly with these two, in explaining how Eratosthenes determined the size of the earth, a number that was hitherto, at best, a guess. Nicastro also follows in the footsteps of Bill Bryson's attempt to write a biography of Shakespeare, in ...more
Jeff Schilling
Circumference is as much a story of the evolution of Greek science as it is a history of discovery. The story is of a similar ilk to those of Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology), [return]Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel, and The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World by Amir D. Aczel.[return][return]The narrative arc was not as ...more
Awful. Not a history of the measurement, but a vast, padded history of the history of Greece and Egypt. I quit 30% into the thing when I got to this quote about the creation of the library at Alexandria:

Displaying a philosophy in exact opposition to that of America's forty-third president, Demetrius advised the prince "to collect books on kingship and the exercise of power, and to read them."

I suppose it ever will be fashionable among the Professorship to bash W., but surely nothing could be mor
Jun 10, 2009 Kelley rated it it was amazing
A fascinating little book about how Eratosthenes, The Librarian of the Great Library... yes THE Great Library of Alexandria calculated the circumference of the Earth in 3rd century BCE (or BC, if you prefer). Nicastro paints a detailed, but never tedious, picture of Egypt under Greek pharaohs, the impact of various philosophers and philosophies on early science, and the development of Alexandria and its Great Library itself. The author writes with a touch of humor and irony when comparing the ...more
Ioannis Savvas
Αν και το βιβλίο χαρακτηρίζεται ως ιστορικό μυθιστόρημα, δεν έχει τίποτα το μυθιστορηματικό. Πρόκειται για μια ιστορική μελέτη της εποχής του Ερατοσθένη, ενώ η αναφορά στη μέτρηση καθεαυτή της περιφέρειας της Γης είναι μικρή. Παρουσιάζονται το ιστορικό, πολιτικό, φιλοσοφικό και διανοητικό πλαίσιο στο οποίο γεννήθηκε και πραγματώθηκε αυτός ο εκπληκτικός μαθηματικός υπολογισμός, και το βιβλίο καταλήγει με τις προεκτάσεις αυτής της μέτρησης και τη σημασία της για την ανθρωπότητα. Ένα ενδιαφέρον ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Not only did ancient people know the world was round, mathematicians using foundational concepts in astronomy, geometry and cartography had worked out pretty much how far around it was. This account centers on Eratosthenes, head librarian of the Library at Alexandria (which had to be the best academic job in the ancient world), a Hellenistic Renaissance man. Nicastro successfully explains the technical details for the benefit of non-scientists, while filling in the rich context of the culturally ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Jacobi rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read
I picked this up from the library on a lark because it was face out on the bookshelf, and I'm glad I did. Eratosthenes is a figure I know absolutely nothing about, and this was a nice survey of the man's accomplishments in and contributions to science. The books also talks about Alexandria, it's great library and librarians, Egypt, Syene, Greeks of the time, influential Indian and Muslim scientists who followed in Eratosthenes' footsteps, and a slew of other topics. Just good stuff.

Aug 03, 2016 Mike rated it liked it
Nothing new in this and a few minor flaws from an author who would seem to pride himself on his historical accuracy. Nevertheless, it's a more rewarding read than his fiction. There is not a great amount of material for the non-academic regarding Eratosthenes so Nicastro's book is a welcome addition despite it's shortcomings.
Aug 27, 2010 Larry rated it liked it
about Eratosthenes, Greek head of Library of Alexandria. Figured out earth's circumference. A bit of heavy lifting later in book.
Austin Arlitt
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Goodreads Librari...: Combining Editions 2 26 Jun 10, 2012 03:26AM  
Nicholas Nicastro was born in Astoria, New York in 1963. Since that time his primary preoccupation has been in accumulating capital letters behind his given name, including a B.A. in English from Cornell University (1985), an M.F.A. in filmmaking from New York University (1991), an M.A. in archaeology and a Ph.D in psychology from Cornell (1996 and 2003). He has also worked as a film critic, a ...more
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