My knowledge of current day German authors and their works needs some freshing up, so as I was
thinking about Julie Zeh’s novel Decompression, I was looking at German authors and thought of Daniel Kehlmann, a literary phenomenon in the German speaking world, his novel ‘Measuring the World’ has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold 3 million copies in Germany alone. I decided, then, to read this work next.
The cover shown here is from the French edition.
The book concerns a period in the German enlightenment and two of the most Iconic figures, the book follows the extraordinary lives of these two people who are at the intersection of several scientific subjects. The two personalities are Carl Gauss and Alexander Von Humboldt. The greatest German Mathematician of the 19th century and the naturalist and explorer who did much to popularise science. The book contrasts the two in their upbringing, and their approach to science and follows some of their key works and frustrations. This work is full of dry humour. Looking at how people of exception can be so out of step with their surroundings, and then as they get older and the frustration of fame for Humboldt and the onwards match of science which no longer waits for Gauss finally brings their diametrically opposed visions closer to an understanding.
The book is a study of people at a moment in time and an adventure story. The work is not light but enjoyable, I will read his latest book ‘F’ at a later date
Measuring the World: First published in Germany by Rowohlt in 2005
Translated into English by Carol Brown and published by Quercus in 2007
Translated into French by Juliette Aubert and published by Actes Sud In 2006