Measure of the Earth by Larrie D. Ferreiro
The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World

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In the early eighteenth century, at the peak of the Enlightenment, an unlikely team of European scientists and naval officers set out on the world’s first international, cooperative scientific expedition. Intent on making precise astronomical measurements at the Equator, they were poised to resolve one of mankind’s oldest mysteries: the true shape of the Earth.
 In Measure of the Earth, award-winning science writer Larrie D. Ferreiro tells the full story of the Geodesic Mission to the Equator for the very first time. It was an age when Europe was torn between two competing conceptions of the world: the followers of René Descartes argued that the Earth was elongated at the poles, even as Isaac Newton contended that it was flattened. A nation that could accurately determine the planet’s shape could securely navigate its oceans, giving it great military and imperial advantages. Recognizing this, France and Spain organized a joint expedition to colonial Peru, Spain’s wealthiest kingdom. Armed with the most advanced surveying and astronomical equipment, they would measure a degree of latitude at the Equator, which when compared with other measurements would reveal the shape of the world. But what seemed to be a straightforward scientific exercise was almost immediately marred by a series of unforeseen catastrophes, as the voyagers found their mission threatened by treacherous terrain, a deeply suspicious populace, and their own hubris.

A thrilling tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, Measure of the Earth recounts the greatest scientific expedition of the Enlightenment through the eyes of the men who completed it—pioneers who overcame tremendous adversity to traverse the towering Andes Mountains in order to discern the Earth’s shape.  In the process they also opened the eyes of Europe to the richness of South America and paved the way for scientific cooperation on a global scale.


About Larrie D. Ferreiro

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Larrie D. Ferreiro is the author and editor of several books on the history of science and technology, including Ships and Science, which received the North American Society for Oceanic History's John Lyman Award for Best Book in Science and Technology. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
Published May 31, 2011 by Basic Books. 378 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Nature & Wildlife, Travel, Science & Math. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Measure of the Earth

Kirkus Reviews

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French Minister of the Navy Maurepas was anxious to know if Newton was correct, as the shape of the earth could affect navigation, so he organized a geodesic mission to the equator in order to measure the length of latitude to determine it.

Mar 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

The Wall Street Journal

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But who would believe that in the 18th century—when trade routes across the Atlantic had been established for two centuries and colonial roads stretched well into the South American continent—a group of scientists traveling from France to the area of present-day Ecuador would require almost 40 ye...

Jun 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

The Washington Post

Charles-Marie de La Condamine, by contrast, was a worldly and wealthy friend of Voltaire, as much an adventurer as a scientist and one of those men whose actions regularly combined “curiosity, bravery, and sheer idiocy.” Pierre Bouguer, who had not really wanted to join the expedition, eventually...

Jul 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

The Washington Post

If you enjoy reading popular histories of science — such as Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” or Jonathan Weiner’s “The Beak of the Finch” — you should certainly add Ferreiro’s “Measure of the Earth” to this tropical summer’s reading list.

Jul 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...


Science is science, and politics is politics, but anyone who thinks the twain never meet should consider the climate change debate.

Sep 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

Science News

The question required comparing the distance between degrees of latitude in Europe — which had been measured — with that distance in the Arctic or at the equator.

Sep 09 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

Literary Review

Ferreiro enlivens his account with the fruits of years spent translating letters and memoirs produced by the mission in French and Spanish: 'They fight like cats and dogs and hide their observations from one another,' the mission's surgeon wrote home from Panama City, even before the team made la...

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Battling subzero temperatures, swarming mosquitoes and angry Inquisitors, all to find a single number.

Jun 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Measure of the Earth: The Enl...

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