The Measure of Manhattan by Marguerite Holloway
The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor

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“Randel is endlessly fascinating, and Holloway’s biography tells his life with great skill.”—Steve Weinberg, USA Today

John Randel Jr. (1787–1865) was an eccentric and flamboyant surveyor. Renowned for his inventiveness as well as for his bombast and irascibility, Randel was central to Manhattan’s development but died in financial ruin. Telling Randel’s engrossing and dramatic life story for the first time, this eye-opening biography introduces an unheralded pioneer of American engineering and mapmaking.

Charged with “gridding” what was then an undeveloped, hilly island, Randel recorded the contours of Manhattan down to the rocks on its shores. He was obsessed with accuracy and steeped in the values of the Enlightenment, in which math and science promised dominion over nature. The result was a series of maps, astonishing in their detail and precision, which undergird our knowledge about the island today. During his varied career Randel created surveying devices, designed an early elevated subway, and proposed a controversial alternative route for the Erie Canal—winning him admirers and enemies.

The Measure of Manhattan is more than just the life of an unrecognized engineer. It is about the ways in which surveying and cartography changed the ground beneath our feet. Bringing Randel’s story into the present, Holloway travels with contemporary surveyors and scientists trying to envision Manhattan as a wild island once again. Illustrated with dozens of historical images and antique maps, The Measure of Manhattan is an absorbing story of a fascinating man that captures the era when Manhattan—indeed, the entire country—still seemed new, the moment before canals and railroads helped draw a grid across the American landscape.


About Marguerite Holloway

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Marguerite Holloway, the director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University, has written for Scientific American, Discover, the New York Times, Natural History, and Wired. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.
Published February 18, 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. 384 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Nov 19 2012 | Read Full Review of The Measure of Manhattan: The...

Publishers Weekly

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during the same years, the inveterate and peripatetic genius also surveyed and divided portions of upstate New York, “trudged hundreds of miles, laying out turnpikes and surveying routes for several of the country’s earliest railroads,” and “sounded the Hudson River south of Albany” in ...

Oct 22 2012 | Read Full Review of The Measure of Manhattan: The...

The New Yorker

In 1808, the surveyor John Randel, Jr., was given the task of planning New York City’s grid of streets, and soon faced threats from Manhattanites. Marguerite Holloway’s book mixes biography, New York history, and an account of early-nineteenth-century America’s obsession with surveying.

Apr 08 2013 | Read Full Review of The Measure of Manhattan: The...

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