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

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

by Alfred W. Crosby
     
 

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This 1997 book discusses the shift to quantitative perception which made modern science, technology, business practice and bureaucracy possible.See more details below

Overview

This 1997 book discusses the shift to quantitative perception which made modern science, technology, business practice and bureaucracy possible.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_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.
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.
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:
9781107702295
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
10/29/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
539,567
File size:
4 MB

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