Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World

Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World

by Larrie D. Ferreiro

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In the early eighteenth century, at the peak of the Enlightenment, an unlikely team of European scientists and naval officers set out on the world’s first international, cooperative scientific expedition. Intent on making precise astronomical measurements at the Equator, they were poised to resolve one of mankind’s oldest mysteries: the true shape of the Earth.
 In Measure of the Earth, award-winning science writer Larrie D. Ferreiro tells the full story of the Geodesic Mission to the Equator for the very first time. It was an age when Europe was torn between two competing conceptions of the world: the followers of René Descartes argued that the Earth was elongated at the poles, even as Isaac Newton contended that it was flattened. A nation that could accurately determine the planet’s shape could securely navigate its oceans, giving it great military and imperial advantages. Recognizing this, France and Spain organized a joint expedition to colonial Peru, Spain’s wealthiest kingdom. Armed with the most advanced surveying and astronomical equipment, they would measure a degree of latitude at the Equator, which when compared with other measurements would reveal the shape of the world. But what seemed to be a straightforward scientific exercise was almost immediately marred by a series of unforeseen catastrophes, as the voyagers found their mission threatened by treacherous terrain, a deeply suspicious populace, and their own hubris.

A thrilling tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, Measure of the Earth recounts the greatest scientific expedition of the Enlightenment through the eyes of the men who completed it—pioneers who overcame tremendous adversity to traverse the towering Andes Mountains in order to discern the Earth’s shape.  In the process they also opened the eyes of Europe to the richness of South America and paved the way for scientific cooperation on a global scale.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465023455
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 05/31/2011
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 932,506
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Larrie D. Ferreiro is the author and editor of several books on the history of science and technology, including Ships and Science, which received the North American Society for Oceanic History's John Lyman Award for Best Book in Science and Technology. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

Table of Contents

Principal Characters ix

Introduction: The Baseline at Yaruquí xiii

I The Problem of the Earth's Shape 1

II Preparations for the Mission 31

III Finding Quito 61

IV Degree of Difficulty 91

V City of Kings 117

VI The Triangles of Peru 129

VII Death and the Surgeon 163

VIII The War of Jenkins's Ear 179

IX The Dance of the Stars 197

X The Impossible Return 223

XI A World Revealed 247

Epilogue: The Children of the Equator 273

Afterword 289

A Note on Language 293

Units of Measure and Currency 295

Acknowledgments 297

Notes 299

Index 339

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Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very readable account of the first great bi-national scientific expedition. There is a lot to learn about the hardships and difficulties the French-Spanish team overcame in a decade long effort to establish exactly the length of a degree of latitude at the equator. That said the author seems to claim more lasting significane for the impact of the expedition than the facts seem to warrant. The book have been better if the science and, particularly, the mathematics had been explained in greater detail. The book seems excellent in setting the expedition in the context of its times and in its descriptions of French, Spanish, and Peruvian culture.