Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann - review by Sebastian Shakespeare

Sebastian Shakespeare

Teutonic Titans

Measuring the World


Quercus 248pp £12.99

This novel comes freighted with high expectations. It has sold a million copies in its native Germany and has been hailed as the most successful German novel since Patrick Süskind's Perfume. At first glance it is hard to see why. Measuring the World tells the story of two nineteenth-century scientists: Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist and explorer, and Professor Gauss, the German mathematician and astronomer. We follow their parallel lives as they set out to measure the world. 

Humboldt, son of a Prussian aristocrat, discovers the channel that links the Orinoco to the Amazon, collects thousands of plants and hundreds of animals, inspects natives for head lice, and documents every peak and river in his path. Carl Gauss, the greatest mathematician since Newton, invents the prime number theorem,

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

Follow Literary Review on Twitter