Measuring the World

Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann

"It was both odd and injust, said Gauss, a real example of the pitiful arbitrariness of existence, that you were born into a particular time and held prisoner there whether you wanted it or not. It gave you an indecent advantage over the past and made you a clown vis-a-vis the future."

I'm not sure what to make of this one: I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. It certainly was not what I expected.


I do admire Kehlmann for trying a different angle on a historical novel about two eminent characters in their own time. The novel style and focus on what basically is a sequence of vignettes work well to bring out the character in Kehlmann's two subjects - Humboldt and Gauss. 


However, this is at the expense of any historical facts (other than that the two people existed):


There is one (or maybe two) references to dates in this book, and I felt this was only to give the reader a timeframe to anchor the story in. 

Other than this, there are very few facts in this story that could be referenced back to anything. Yet, this is not due to a lack of research on the part of the author. To draw a picture of both characters in as much detail as he does would have required a lot of research. The book just does not bring this across which makes this more a novel that featured two characters with the names of actual people and some enterprises these people may have set out to, but little else makes this book feel like a historical novel.


And this is where my problem is again: If I want to read about actual people, I want facts, I want references, I want to be able to go away and read more about something they did.


I do not want speculation about what they have thought or felt, or whether their brother tried to kill them when they were little. Unless I can go away and find other supporting material about any of this, I am simply not interested.


The upside to the book was that there was no love triangle, which so often spoils historical fiction books.