by Paul Murdin
187 pages; $27.50
Paul Murdin's Full Meridian of Glory is a weighty tome. It is not particularly long, but it is very dense, both in the hand and in the mind. The book itself is beautiful heavy paper, with many wonderful illustrations. The text iself has the mark of being typeset in LaTeX. The sidebars are indented, but placed in the main flow of text, and the list of illustrations is suspiciously complete. This gives the book a mark of authenticity, because many papers in physics and astronomy are typeset in LaTeX as well. I understand this is becoming common practice in books in mathematics and the hard sciences, editors are streamlining the book production process by relying on the automation provided by LaTeX, and only giving minimal assistance to all but the most famous authors.
This book is for the history of science buff, the devoted astronomer, or the dogged generalist. The history is thick with the large and varied cast of scientists and craftsmen who made the measurement of the earth possible. A chronology is provided in the front matter, but this book could almost use a dramatis personae. Some facility with mathematics would be very helpful, but the book could be read without it as long as one was content to glide over many disquisitions on minutes of arc and parallax.
I appreciated the detail on geodesy. I had long wondered exactly how mapping and surveying was performed, and this book provides that information for the interested amateur. The patience and industry necessary to provide us with the accurate maps we enjoy is nothing short of astonishing, and also a testament to the power of modern science to slowly accumulate great knowledge, despite the personal hardships and international conflagrations that seem to divert science from its course.
A fine capsule history of a great event, dense, but not too long. Full of fun facts and good science, but perhaps too technical for the average reader.