Author(s): Daniel Kehlmann
At the end of the eighteenth century, two brilliant and eccentric young scientists set out to measure the world.
Alexander von Humboldt swashbuckled his way across the globe: navigating ocean and jungle, eating with cannibals, swimming with electric eels, lowering himself into volcanoes and scaling the highest mountain known to man.
Carl Friedrich Gauss, on the other hand, stayed at home, using the power of thought to battle his way into exotic mathematical realms and the landmark realization that space is curved.
Measuring the World brings these two geniuses to life, capturing their balancing act between loneliness and love, absurdity and greatness, failure and success.
Shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008.
Karen writes: This is a fictionalised account of the lives of two brilliant scientists who lived in remarkable times. The novel opens in the late 1800s when two elderly scientists meet at a conference in Berlin. Carl Friedrich Gauss is a mathematical genius and Alexander von Humboldt is a renowned explorer. He is particularly famous for a journey up the Orinoco in South America some 25 years earlier. This journey which takes up about a third of the novel is absolutely fascinating and if I didn't know it is based on a real expedition I wouldn't believe a word of it. Both men have eschewed human relationships in their hunger for knowledge. Von Humboldt was from a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family whilst Gauss was a child prodigy from a dirt poor family. This sets the up the background of political upheaval that occurs in Europe nicely. Not that our two scientists are particularly concerned about that except when it effects their funding for various projects. Some of the great thinkers of the day like Kant, Goethe and Daguerre appear in surprisingly comic cameos. This book is a huge best seller in Germany and the author is only 31 and even in translation it's a fascinating and compelling novel.
Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975 and moved to Vienna in 1981, where he studied philosophy and literature at university. Measuring the World is his fifth novel.