MEASURING THE WORLD / Daniel Kehlmann

This is the story of both Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt , two German giants of world intellectual history (who both lived in the 18th century.)   However Kehlmann, while following the general outlines of biography, recasts the two men as comical heroes -not to themselves, but to the reader.  The book gallops along at a machine gun clip and imbues scores of actual events with comic embellishments.  Chapters alternate between the two men–Gauss developing brilliant mathematical ideas and taking on Astronomy and Surveying projects, while Humboldt maps and probes the earth primarily in Latin America.  Like Newton before them, the two polymaths are driven souls who relentlessly pursue facts and figures.  Humboldt’s half of the story reads like River Of Doubt or The Lost City Of Z (both terrific books) but in Kehlmann’s hands the adventure is both harrowing and hilarious.  Meanwhile, Gauss works on scientific breakthroughs and argues sarcastically with pretty much everyone he meets–especially unrelentingly with his own family.  Near the end of the novel, Humboldt hosts Gauss and his son in Berlin where the two men bicker and preen until called upon to rescue Eugen (Gauss’s son) from police custody.  Soon after this point the book leaves the two aging geniuses behind and takes an unexpected final turn. This book is an international best seller.     Don 6/6/2018

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