The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor

The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor

by Marguerite Holloway


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"Randel is endlessly fascinating, and Holloway’s biography tells his life with great skill." —Steve Weinberg, USA Today

John Randel Jr. (1787–1865) was an eccentric and flamboyant surveyor. Renowned for his inventiveness as well as for his bombast and irascibility, Randel was central to Manhattan’s development but died in financial ruin. Telling Randel’s engrossing and dramatic life story for the first time, this eye-opening biography introduces an unheralded pioneer of American engineering and mapmaking.

Charged with “gridding” what was then an undeveloped, hilly island, Randel recorded the contours of Manhattan down to the rocks on its shores. He was obsessed with accuracy and steeped in the values of the Enlightenment, in which math and science promised dominion over nature. The result was a series of maps, astonishing in their detail and precision, which undergird our knowledge about the island today. During his varied career Randel created surveying devices, designed an early elevated subway, and proposed a controversial alternative route for the Erie Canal—winning him admirers and enemies.

The Measure of Manhattan is more than just the life of an unrecognized engineer. It is about the ways in which surveying and cartography changed the ground beneath our feet. Bringing Randel’s story into the present, Holloway travels with contemporary surveyors and scientists trying to envision Manhattan as a wild island once again.

Illustrated with dozens of historical images and antique maps, The Measure of Manhattan is an absorbing story of a fascinating man that captures the era when Manhattan—indeed, the entire country—still seemed new, the moment before canals and railroads helped draw a grid across the American landscape.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393347906
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/24/2014
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 363,203
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marguerite Holloway, the director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University, has written for Scientific American, Discover, the New York Times, Natural History, and Wired. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Prologue: Big Rock 1

I In Which Reuben Skye Rose-Redwood and J. R. Lemuel Morrison Set Out to Find the Imagined City 3

II In Which John Randel Jr. Affixes the City to the Island 14

III In Which Rose-Redwood Surveys the 1811 Grid and Morrison Surveys Today's 135

IV In Which Randel Keeps Seeking the Most Eligible Routes 173

V In Which Mannahatta Lifts Off 253

VI In Which Is Described "the Ingenuity of the New" 281

Epilogue: Randel's Rock 297

Acknowledgments 299

Notes 307

Bibliography 329

Index 353

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The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Dalriada More than 1 year ago
Easy to read style, details provided in a logical sequence. References to other significant geodetic developments that were arising concurrently. Specifically, the considerations given to gravimetric data were helpful to perceiving the Manhattan survey in the context of survey activities, nationally and internationally. For the non-surveyor, this book serves to connect the implications of a precise survey for the immediate and long-term development of Manhattan.