October 27, 2009

Geniuses among themselves

Daniel Kehlmann: Measuring the World

So many Geniuses in only one book, Gauss, the two Humbolds, Goethe, Kant, Daguerre, Bonpland.....

The Measuring the World is an amusing and very pleasant novel about two great German scientists: Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt. Two parallel lives, two parallel stories in the really best period of the German spirit. They have much in common, but still they have quite different lives.

Gauss is the son of a gardener, he has very big luck when his teacher discovers this boy is an extremely smart someone. Alexander von Humboldt is a noble man, a nephew of a duke and his family is befriended with Goethe, so he can get the best education without any problem. But despite of the different origin, both become professor.

Gauss is thinking always about the problems of the mathematics, he is more a theoretical man, he lives in Göttingen, he has a family, a “normal” life with all the usual problems, Humboldt is more a practical someone, he wants to make about everything statistics, he spends many years in Latin America, but he has no family (except his famous brother Willheim von Humboldt and his family) It looks like Gauss can to find his place in the world easier. Although he is thinking always about the world would be better for him 100 years later. (It funny, how this fictionalized character of Carl Friedrich Gauss is thinking and talking about the real technical inventions of the 20. century.) Goethe is like a god for Humboldt, Gauss hates the great man from Weimar, he thinks, the poet is a very stupid someone.

The end of the 18. and the begin of the 19. century is a great time of the European culture. So, it’s a bit strange when a story is from a cynical, a sceptical point of view. But it's an interesting idea: the greatest scientists of that era maybe didn’t think the same about these years like we do now, 200 years later.
And the end of the story shows a quite interesting perspective, when Gauss’s son travels to America. It’s right that those years were fantastic for the European culture, but maybe it was the last time, and great things happened later only on the “new continent”. 

This review was written for The German Reading Challenge

1 megjegyzés:

Marie said...

sounds like a really interesting book!

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