Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracyby Andro Linklater
Measuring America is the fascinating, provocative, and eye-opening story of why America has ended up with its unique system of weights and measuresthe American Customary System, unlike any other in the worldand how this has profoundly shaped our country and culture. In the process, Measuring America reveals the colossal power contained/i>/i>
Measuring America is the fascinating, provocative, and eye-opening story of why America has ended up with its unique system of weights and measuresthe American Customary System, unlike any other in the worldand how this has profoundly shaped our country and culture. In the process, Measuring America reveals the colossal power contained inside the acres and miles, ounces and pounds, that we use every day without ever realizing their significance.
The most urgent problem facing the newly independent United States was how to pay for the war that won the country its freedom; America's debt was enormous. Its greatest asset was the land west of the Ohio River, but for this huge territory to be sold, it had first to be surveyedthat is, measured out and mapped. And before that could be done, a uniform set of measurements had to be chosen for the new republic. English, Scottish, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and other settlers had all brought their own systems with them (more than 100,000 different units are reckoned to have been in daily use), and in his first address to Congress, George Washington put the establishment of a single system of weights and measures immediately after a national defense and a currency as the United States' most urgent priority.
The debate on this vital measure took place at a critical moment in the history of ideas, when the traditional, subjective view of the world was being increasingly challenged by objective, scientific reasoning. Thomas Jeffersonsupported by Washington, Adams, Madison, Monroe, even Hamiltonchampioned the new idea of a scientific 10-based system derived from some universal constant such as time or the size of the earth. Such an alliance should have ensured a decimal America, but ranged against them was the invisible genius of Edmund Gunter, the seventeenth-century English mathematician whose twenty-two-yard surveying chain, introduced in 1607, had revolutionized land ownership in Britain and was still used by every surveyor in Americaincluding Thomas Hutchins and his successors in charge of the land survey on the Ohio frontier.
How we ultimately gained the American Customary Systemthe last traditional system in the worldand how Gunter's chain indelibly imprinted its dimensions on the land, on cities, and on our culture from coast to coast is both an exciting human and intellectual drama and one of the great untold stories in American history. At a time when the metric system may finally be unstoppable, Andro Linklater has captured the essential nature of measurement just as the Founding Fathers understood it. Sagely argued and beautifully written, Measuring America offers readers nothing less than the opportunity to see America's historyand our democracyin a brilliant new light.
"The grid was to the rationalization of nature what the Declaration of Independence was to freedom," writes Case Western professor Ted Steinberg in Down to Earth, a meditation on the overlooked role of nature in American history. For Steinberg, American history began 180 million years ago, when the giant landmass Pangaea broke apart, and continues through such major events as the Laramide Orogeny (which created the Great Plains), Millard Fillmore's 1850 State of the Union address (which lamented the high price of imported Peruvian guano), and the proliferation of the boll weevil (which may have spurred the exodus of black Americans to the North).(Mark Rozzo)
- Walker & Company
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Meet the Author
Andro Linklater was born in Scotland and educated at Oxford University where he studied history.
Audie Award finalist Alan Sklar has narrated nearly two hundred audiobooks and has won several AudioFile Earphones Awards.
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