The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250-1600 / Edition 1

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Overview

Western Europeans were among the first, if not the first, to invent mechanical clocks, geometrically precise maps, double-entry bookkeeping, exact algebraic and musical notations, and perspective painting. By the 16th century more people were thinking quantitatively in Western Europe than in any other part of the world. They thus became world leaders in science, technology, armaments, navigation, business practice, and bureaucracy, and created many of the greatest masterpieces of Western music and painting. The Measure of Reality discusses the epochal shift from qualitative to quantitative perception in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This shift made modern science, technology, business practice, and bureaucracy possible. It affected not only the obvious -- such as measurements of time and space and mathematical technique -- but, equally and simultaneously, music and painting, thus proving that the shift was even more profound than once thought.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having written such books as Ecological Imperialism, Crosby, a professor of American studies, history and geography at the University of Texas, Austin, wondered what it was that made Europeans such successful colonists and empire builders. In this engrossing study, he posits that it was Europeans' ability to divide the world, whether experiential or abstract, into quanta which they could then manipulate and exploit. Crosby begins by reminding readers how different the Western worldview was a millennium ago. For example, Europeans, Crosby notes, "had a system of unequal accordian-pleated hours that puffed up and deflated so as to ensure a dozen hours each for daytime and nighttime, winter and summer." This more fluid conception of reality did not change over night. Crosby first looks at the "Necessary but Insufficient Causes" like the codification of time and calendar, new strides in cartography and astronomy and the introduction of Arabic numerals, before looking at the match that set fire to the rage to quantify. This was, he says, the shift to visualization. With the printing press, large numbers of people moved from oral to literate culture; with increasingly complicated polyphony, composers found need for musical notation; painters, in an effort to bring depth to their work, applied geometry to make the third dimension visual on a flat plane; and merchants eschewed memory for the more reliable double-entry bookkeeping. Crosby's argument is, of course, much subtler (not to mention more entertaining) than this grossly simplified outline. It is a joy for anyone interested in why we think the way we think. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Crosby, who has written on the biological reasons Europeans were such successful imperialists, here expands on those reasons. He argues that even more fundamental and earlier than biology, Europeans began to think of reality in quantitative terms more than any other people in the world and thus became the world's leaders in science, technology, navigation, armaments, business, bureaucracy, music, and painting. (LJ 1/97) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Both of these highly original books deal with modern perceptions of time. Sherman (English, Washington Univ., St. Louis) focuses on changes in clock technology and the innovations in English prose structure that occurred simultaneously. Crosby (Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, Cambridge Univ., 1986) aims to be broader in scope, treating perceptions of reality in space, mathematics, bookkeeping, painting, and music, as well as time; by "reality," he means "everything material within time and space and those two dimensions per se." Crosby studies the period that witnessed the shift from a qualitative and descriptive to a quantitative approach to analysis. Both books under review rest on wide and deep reading in many disciplines. Sherman structures his argument around four literary works: Pepys's Diary, Addison and Steele's Spectator, Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, and Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. So encyclopedic is Crosby's reading in the primary and secondary literature from the ancient world to the present that it would be perilous to pinpoint his basic sources. While Crosby writes in an easy, chatty style punctuated with fascinating questions (why do cats north of the equator chase mice, but cats south of the equator do not?) appealing to the general reader as well as the scholar, Sherman's style is more ponderous, and the book is clearly intended for the specialist in English. Both books make valuable contributions to the current discussion on cultural studies.-Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C.
The New York Times
Mr. Crosby tracks a magnificent journey, from the introspective mentality of the early Middle Ages, which willingly tolerated ignorance and lack of precision, to a mentality that conceived of the physical universe in visual and quantitative terms.... Mr. Crosby tells a heroic story of discovery and change that many readers will turn to for enlightenment. -- The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"...we have all benefited from Crosby's attempt to sum up the age." Paula Findlen, The Sixteenth Century Journal

"How the numerate urge developed and blossomed is the subject of this gracefully written book by Alfred W. Crosby....Crosby constructs a convincing account of how different forces came together to elevate quantification as a social and economic good in Western European society." Business Week

"It's not often that one wishes a scholarly book were longer. In the case of The Measure of Reality, one does." Civilization

"How the numerate urge developed and blossomed is the subject of this gracefully written book by Alfred W. Crosby....Crosby constructs a convincing account of how different forces came together to elevate quantification as a social and economic good in Western European society." Business Week

"It's not often that one wishes a scholarly book were longer. In the case of The Measure of Reality, one does." Civilization

"...highly original....Crosby writes in an easy, chatty style punctuated with fascinating questions...appealing to the general reader as well as the scholar....[makes] valuable contributions to the current discussion on cultural studies." Library Journal

"...very accessible and readable...[a] stimulating, wide-ranging study of the intellectual development of the medieval West....Mr. Crosby tracks a magnificent journey, from the introspective mentality of the early Middle Ages, which willingly tolerated ignorance and lack of precision, to a mentality that conceived of the physical universe in visual and quantitative terms....Mr. Crosby tells a heroic story of discovery and change that many readers will turn to for enlightenment." New York Times Book Review

"The author provides some remarkable insights on modern culture....This is one of those rare books, one that changes the reader's view of the world just beyond the page." The Baltimore Sun

"...[an] engrossing study....It is a joy for anyone interested in why we think the way we think." Publishers Weekly

"Here, at last, is a theme that may provoke students and maybe also mature scholars—the primacy of art and commerce in the formation of a scientific-technological mentality." Theodore M. Porter, Technology & Culture

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521639903
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Pt. 1 Pantometry Achieved
1 Pantometry: An Introduction 3
2 The Venerable Model 21
3 Necessary but Insufficient Causes 49
4 Time 75
5 Space 95
6 Mathematics 109
Pt. 2 Striking the Match: Visualization
7 Visualization: An Introduction 129
8 Music 139
9 Painting 165
10 Bookkeeping 199
Pt. 3 Epilogue
11 The New Model 227
Index 241
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