Friday, December 26, 2008
Good day to stay in and read one of the cool books Santa brought for Christmas
Like Measuring the World, by the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann -- a smart historical novel about the German contemporaries, Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. It's a stunning evocation of the interplay between the realms of observation and theory, exemplified by the naturalist, geographer and explorer Humboldt -- much admired by Darwin -- and the mathematician and physicist Gauss who invented big chunks of modern mathematics and whose insights about space were far ahead of his time. The book begins with their meeting in Berlin in 1828 as middle-aged men, but then continues via flashback to chronicle their explorations of inner and outer space, much of it during the chaos of the Napoleonic wars that redefined the space of Europe itself. A marvelous meditation on two titans of intellectual history with roots in the 18th century Enlightment who helped give birth to the modern age.