Towards the end of the eighteenth century two young Germans commence on a journey of measuring the world. One of them, Alexander von Humboldt, struggles through rainforests and across fields, sails down the Orinoco River, eats poison to discover how it affects him, counts the lice on the natives’ heads, crawls deep into caves, climbs up volcanoes and encounters beasts from the ocean and man-eaters. The other young German, mathematician and astrologist Carl Friedrich Gauss, who can’t live without women but who nevertheless leaps out of bed on his wedding night to write down a formula, also proves back in his hometown Göttingen that space is curved. In 1828, when the two of them have grown old, famous and a little strange, they meet in Berlin. But Gauss has hardly stepped out of his carriage and they are tangled up in the political unrest that dominates Germany after Napoleon’s fall.
Always with an underlying sense of humour, Daniel Kehmann writes about the lives of the two exceptional characters, their desires and their weaknesses. He describes how they constantly ride between the ridiculous and the tremendous, between times of failure and times of success. Measuring The World is a playful and refined story that juggles historical facts with fiction, a philosophical and adventurous novel that is both incredibly imaginative and strong.