One advantage of this list is that I’m tackling books which I would have never even bothered to read as I am not a fan of
1) Historical fiction (ok there’s Pynchon but he is a different kettle of fish)
2) Literature translated into English (as a lot gets lost)
However Measuring the World was next on the list so I had to read it whether I liked it or not.
The book is about two scientists (who existed in reality), Alexander Von Humboldt and Carl Gauss. The former is an adventurer in the true sense while the latter is a recluse. Despite this difference the two have parallel lives. Both have discovered secrets about the world we live in and it makes them famous. When the two finally meet each other in 1828 they find out that both their talents and current situation (Germany has been annexed to France) have stopped them from continuing their mission to map out the world. Add to that guest appearances by Kant, Schiller, Thomas Jefferson and you do get quite an interesting story in your hands.
As such the novel is divided into two halves. One focuses on the early life of the scientists. Humboldt’s journey through South America, which is a highpoint of the book, and Gauss’ martial problems. The second half is about the grim reality posed by a French occupied Germany and the trappings of fame. I admit that in this part the book drags a bit and loses the verve it had in the beginning. Just like it’s two protagonists I suppose.
A bestseller in Germany, Measuring the World, is a page turner filled with moments of sly humour and a restless energy. Kehlmann avoids cliches so it does makes fresh reading. Not too clever but with a brain, it is one of those books that caters for all types of people and, in my case, was a pleasant surprise.