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Measuring the World

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  13,508 ratings  ·  1,018 reviews
The young Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann conjures a brilliant and gently comic novel from the lives of two geniuses of the Enlightenment.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates savanna and jungle, travels down the Orinoco, tastes poisons, climbs the hi
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published November 7th 2006 by Pantheon (first published 2005)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Die Vermessung der Welt = Measuring the World, Daniel Kehlmann
Measuring the World is a novel by German author Daniel Kehlmann, 2005 published by Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek. The novel re-imagines the lives of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and German geographer Alexander von Humboldt —who was accompanied on his journeys by Aime Bonpland— and their many groundbreaking ways of taking the world's measure, as well as Humboldt's and Bonpland's travels in America and their meeting in 1828. One
The Gene(ius) Pool

In the early 19th century Germany ruled the intellectual world. Or more accurately, given that Germany didn’t yet exist, German was the globally dominant language of science, philosophy, and most other cultural pursuits. Measuring the World is a light-hearted docudrama of the intersecting life of two of the most important intellectual leaders of the period: The explorer and naturalist (and Prussian) Alexander von Humboldt, and the mathematical prodigy Carl Friedrich Gauss (
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"I want to explore the world!"

That is a quite common answer if you ask a group of motivated preteen students what they want to do when they grow up. Hungry little caterpillars, they eat their way through a mixed diet of knowledge and skills over the course of their education before entering the strange teenage cocoon stage when they can't be bothered with anything but their own physical and social development.

As a teacher, you look at all these potential explorers, and their diverse approaches
"It was both odd and injust, said Gauss, a real example of the pitiful arbitrariness of existence, that you were born into a particular time and held prisoner there whether you wanted it or not. It gave you an indecent advantage over the past and made you a clown vis-a-vis the future."

I'm not sure what to make of this one: I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. It certainly was not what I expected.

I do admire Kehlmann for trying a different angle on a historical novel about two eminent characters
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
This novel was very popular in Germany when it came out (titled Die Vermessung der Welt) and it along with another book he wrote in 2003, Ich und Kaminski [Me and Kaminski], won the Kleist Prize for literature in 2006. This is the second book I have tried by this author, and I gave Fame a ‘solid’ 3 stars. This one was a tough one to get through…I was waiting for it to finally get over which is a not a good sign. 2 stars. ☹

How does one credibly review a book when one reads this on Wikipedia: His
Stef Smulders
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
Don't like this book. The characters of the historical figures of Gauss and Von Humboldt are flat, like in a graphic novel. As a result it is even difficult to keep the two apart. I do not see the sense of using real people in a novel if you do not try to develop their psychology, not try to understand their motives, doubts, struggles. In this novel it remains superficial. There is some humor, yes, but again, what is this book meant to be? A satire? Of what? As a historical novel I cannot take i ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)
Shelves: 1001-non-core
Fascinating read. A scientific historical novel (first published in 2005) originally written in German by young author, Daniel Kehlmann (born 1975). It is said to be the worldwide bestselling German novel since Patrick Suskind's Perfume in 1985.

This is a story of a two scientists during the time of Napoleon reign in Europe. The first scientist is Alexander von Humboldt who is a botanist, geologist and an explorer. He has an elder brother Wilhelm von Humboldt who lives a "normal" life, i.e., stu
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Oceana2602 by: FAZ
Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World was one of my birthday presents last year, and I waited almost a year to finally read it. Even though it had been on my wishlist, when it suddenly sat there on my shelf, the idea of reading about pre-industrialization Germany, about Humboldt and Gauß, two boring old scientist, seemed rather dreadful.

I should have known better. Measuring the World is not a science book. It's not about two boring old men either, though it is about two old scientist. And the wa
Gumble's Yard
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fictional account of the lives and meeting (towards the end of their lives at a scientific congress that Humboldt holds) of two great German scientists – the naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (whose brother was also a great politician and linguist) – who explored and opened up and the mathematician and physicist Gauss. The translated English is written in a simple and slightly stilting style but is easy to read and the range of ideas and concepts covered is what makes the book.

Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just wanted to take a short break from two extremely serious and depressing books I'm reading at the moment and thought that plunging into the worlds of two geniuses would be perfect. Re-reading this novel is as fascinating as it was while reading it for the first time.
“Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” This is a delightful historical picaresque about two late-eighteenth-century German scientists: Alexander von Humboldt, who valiantly explored South America and the Russian steppes, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, a misanthropic mathematician whose true genius wasn’t fully realized in his surveying and astronomical work. Both difficult in their own way, the men represent different models for how to do science: an adventurous one w ...more
Friederike Knabe
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: german-lit
I read this back in 2007 in English, now in German for a book club. Here is my 2007 review.

It is not uncommon to find fictional accounts of the lives of famous historical figures, nor of encounters between them. Kehlmann's book is unusual in its choice of personalities and in the way in which he creates an entertaining description of the two. In the late eighteenth century, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt had both embarked on the same quest: finding a new way of measuring the wor
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm a Bill Bryson fan so I'm used to reading about the quirky characters that history throws up; men (and sometimes women) of vast and fascinating eccentricity, whose contribution to science and progress is given that extra soupçon of interest by their delightful battiness.

In Measuring the World we have exhibit A: Alexander von Humbold - a Prussian aristocrat with rampant OCD, determined to measure everything around him in an effort to quantify and so, understand, the world.

and exhibit B: Carl
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with low latent inhibition of which i am one
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list and apoloniaX
So 200 years ago the world was a pretty big place. Not any bigger than it is now but it had the feel of a larger ball of rock as many humans were still scrambling about "discovering" places. Note - most of these places had already been discovered by the people who lived in them. They just didn't shout about it in quite the same way. It is also interesting to note that the people doing the scrambling about were, for the most part, European. Is this because all Europe-ers are massive nosy bastards ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
“Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.”

I feel like things between me and “Measuring the World” could have gone so much better. The preconditions were good: A novel about two scientists, one being Alexander von Humboldt, the other one no less a figure than Carl Gauss himself.
I am the one to blame for how bad this went. I chose to read this as an audio book. As it turns out, this was a huge mistake. I realize now that I’m easily distracted when I’m listening to aud
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bigass-real-shelf, de
“Die Vermessung der Welt“ is incredibly funny. In an intelligent, refined and sophisticated way.

The story is a quite simple one: Parallelly told are the lives of two German 19th-century scientists, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl-Friedrich Gauß. And you do not need any particular scientific knowledge or interest to find the book appealing. On the other hand, the story itself is not the point, it never is (at least not to me). If I had to isolate the element from which the entire beauty of this n
Outside of my comfort zone, which sometimes works out and sometimes does not. In this case, a historical novel about a German explorer named Humboldt and a German mathematician and astronomer named Gauss. Some chapters you get the explorer (more entertaining, if episodic due to the movement in the Americas) and some chapters. you get the math (eh).

Brief scenes of interest, but not so gripping after all, and little investment in the characters who are anything but warm, fuzzy types. Rather the s
Bob Brinkmeyer
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Daniel Kehlmnn’s thoroughly engaging novel Measuring the World follows the exploits of two of history’s towering figures of mathematics and natural science in their pursuits to measure the world: Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt. Gauss and Humboldt stand starkly opposite in their methods and outlooks. Gauss focuses on numbers and equations (and then later on theoretical physics) while Humboldt delves wholeheartedly into the natural world. The contrast reveals itself most starkly i ...more
Ms. Smartarse
Translated into English as Measuring the World.

Carl Friedrich Gauß and Alexander von Humboldt were two brilliant scientists who each set out to measure the world. Humboldt decided to travel to remote places, measuring anything and everything on the way, using various devices.
Gauss on the other hand, managed to do his measuring remotely, by means of complex mathematical equations.

First, I don't much like biographies. With exttemely few exceptions, they all end up boring me one way or another. Gr
Picking up the book I knew more about Alexander von Humboldt than Carl Friedrich Gauss. My lifelong love for museums confronted me a lot with Humboldt's expeditions while the only knowledge I had of Gauss goes back to my school days.

What intrigued me the most was a sole question - would the author be able to hold my interest. Reading (or listening to) a biographical novel can be frustrating when the author ventures too far into details. It's easy to be overwhelmed with too much information.
Jonathan Pool
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: international

The book opens in 1828 as Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss, two luminaries of the early c.19th., both attend the German Scientists' Convention in Berlin. An imagined meeting between the two, forms the basis of Daniel Kehlmann’s fictionalisation, and he cleverly juxtaposes two men revered by their contemporaries as they sought to explore and explain the world via, respectively, observation and exploration (Humbold) and mathematical, and astronomical analysis (Gauss). The
Measuring the World reimagines the life of German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The book follows a fictionalised account of their journey, along with Aimé Bonpland as they measure the world. Their methods where ground-breaking and this novel entangles their lives to explore their effects on science today.

This is not a book of science, this is historical fiction that explores the lives of two German scientists. While the subject matter may sound dull an
German books that are hyped enough to get translated seem to have something in common. That something being that I don't enjoy them very much.

While I do believe that a meeting between Gauß and Humboldt could lead to an interesting book, and while I do know scientists that are so far removed from life that they're socially awkward, I don't think that focussing a book on the awkwardness of said scientists is a great idea.

Gauß, although annoying and arrogant, seems to have a grasp on what a normal
Jul 05, 2007 rated it did not like it
A huge success in Germany. For the life of me I can't figure out why. Which were more boring - the parts about Gauss, or the parts about Humboldt?

Trick question - they were equally soporific.

What in hell was the point of this book? if I hadn't been confined to an aeroplane, I'd never have finished it.

5 Yawns on the snoozometer.
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After falling in love with Kehlmann's Tyll, I had to see if he uses the same sly voice in his other books, or if it was specific to Tyll, where the main character was so cleverly slippery himself. Kehlmann does use a version of this voice and gives us teasingly affectionate, funny, and sometimes poignant portraits of Humboldt and Gauss - their genius and their MANY absurdities. The narrative voice sounded to me like a tongue-in-cheek historian who happily sacrifices accuracy for amusement, while ...more
I don't read a lot of fiction, but this is fictionalised - and appears to contain a lot of fact related to the travel and the science (and mathematics) of the two central characters - Alexander von Humboldt & Carl Friedrich Gauss. Both German, and contemporary, it is not clear to me if they ever met or were colleagues / friends, as they are in this book.

Both fascinating men, but very different in their approach to their fields. Humboldt embodies inductive science - based on observation and exper
Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
In this novel, we follow the Adventurers/Intellectuals Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel at times, yet at other times i literally fell asleep due to boredom. If Daniel Kehlmann would have removed some of the formulas or numbers that did not apply to grasping the concept of the novel, I would have given it a rating of 4, or possibly even a 5 out of 5. This novel did an excellent job of demonstrating the struggles, both physical and emotional that tho ...more
Berit Lundqvist
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
“Whenever things were frightening, it was a good thing to measure them.”

Two science supernovas, the Prussian aristocrat Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss both try to understand the world in their own way.

Humboldt with a hands-on approach, as he climbs volcanos, sails rivers and fights himself through jungles.

Gauss, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, hates to travel, stays at home, and works solely with his mind. Apart from the famous Gauss curve, he manag
Julia Kulgavchuk
Dec 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
As much as I’d love to know about each day of Alexander for Humboldt’s life, I don’t want to get this knowledge from fiction presented as a historical account.

This is an easy read about Gauss and Alexander for Humboldt. But how much is based on diaries, letters etc. and how much is made up? My intuition is, a lot is made up.

The brilliant "The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf managed to present the characters of Humboldt, Darwin and others more vividly while keeping to the limits of a document
Britta Böhler
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Reading 1001: Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann 1 15 Feb 24, 2019 12:38PM  
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Daniel Kehlmann is a German-Austrian author.

His novel Measuring the World was translated into more than forty languages. Awards his work has received include the Candide Prize, the Literature Prize of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Heimito von Doderer Literature Award, the Kleist Prize, the WELT Literature Prize, and the Thomas Mann Prize. Kehlmann divides his time between Vienna and Berlin.

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Are you spending this season bundling up against the chill or enjoying summery southern hemisphere vibes (in which case we are...
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“Whenever things were frightening, it was a good idea to measure them.” 7 likes
“Inzwischen geht es ihm besser, manche Tage seien schon fieberfrei, auch die Träume, in denen er Baron Humboldt erwürge, zerhacke, erschieße, anzünde, vergifte oder unter Steinen begrabe, würden seltener.” 3 likes
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