The Measure of All Things

Abridged Audiobook

Written By: Ken Alder

Narrated By: Brian Jennings

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date: October 2002

Duration: 6 hours 12 minutes


The Measure of All Things tells the story of how science, revolutionary politics, and the dream of a new economy converged to produce the world's common language of measurement, and its first struggle over globalization. Its central story is of two men, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-Francois-Andre Mechain, who set out on a Herculean labor--to measure the shape of the world--and who discovered that scientific integrity could lead to tragedy as well as triumph. The book reveals that a secret error lies at the heart of the metric system--an error perpetuated in every subsequent definition of the meter. The only people who knew the full extent of the error were Delambre and Mechain themselves, because Delambre placed all their intimate correspondence, as well as their scientific notebooks and private journals, under closed seal in the archives of the Paris Observatory. These papers reveal that Mechain--despite his extreme caution in making his observations--committed an error in the early years of their expedition, and worse, upon discovering his mistake, covered it up. Mechain was so tormented by the secret knowledge of his error that he was driven to the brink of madness. In the end, he died in an attempt to correct himself.