Measuring the World tells the fictionalized biographies of Carl Friedrich Gauß and Alexander von Humboldt. Gauß is an extremely talented mathematician, but socially not exactly very talented. In fact, he easily alienates people. The same social awkwardness goes for Alexander von Humboldt who stands in his brother’s shadow. While Humboldt is out exploring the world with his trusted companion Aimé Bonpland, Gauß stays at home and starts a family. But despite these differences, their two careers do have similarities and points where they touch.
Measuring the World is a quick, easy and very entertaining read. I do think that its quality has been exaggerated a bit (in German-speaking countries it is handled as quite the literary achievement and gets taught in schools already), but it is nice to read.
The book does have a nice sense of humor and as I said, it was a good read. But, with the press it’s gotten here, I expected it to be a little more difficult, a little deeper maybe. Generally just a little more challenging. But once I realized that that wasn’t going to happen, I just leaned back and enjoyed it.
Even though it is a book overwhelmingly populated by assholes, Kehlmann manages to have them come across as surprisingly likeable. Though experiencing Gauß and Humboldt together must have been hell. In any case, especially Gauß’ son Eugen was nice. Naive and a little silly, maybe, but a good counterweight to his father. Aimé Bonpland was pushed over a little too much, but he seemed to like it like that, so I guess that’s his thing.
I don’t think that the book is extremely accurate (not that I know much about the topic, but a lot of things seemed more speculation and conjecture and according to wikipedia, there are some obvious differences and timeline disparities), but it all goes together pretty well and makes for a coheisve story.
On a minor sidenote: Since I’m just reading a lot about Wilhelm von Humboldt for uni, I would have enjoyed hearing more about him. He was an interesting guy, too. But I guess I can’t really blame the book for that.