Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Librarian Who Measured The Earth

The Librarian Who Measured The Earth
By Kathryn Lasky
Illustrated By Kevin Hawkes
Published By Little, Brown And Company
Ages: 9 - 12

Say you want to find the circumference of the Earth, how would you go about it?
The object to be measured is not a perfect sphere. But let us approximate it to be a sphere to keep things simple. The formula to be used is 2πr, provided, we have a value for r.

Let us not forget that you are in the 21st century, where, with the click of the key board, you can get the radius range of the Earth. You have grown up with the image and terminology "sphere that is flattened along the axis". This has been reinforced by satellite imaging. Also π = 22*7 has been given away to you for free, chiseled in to your brain by your 5th grade math teacher!

Suppose you lived in 3rd century BC, how would you calculate the circumference of the Earth? First, if you are living in 3rd century ancient Greece and you are thinking about measuring the Earth, then you are of a different cut! Second, you will be going by a whole lot of assumptions, no satellite imaging and GPS to help you there, sorry! Third, you will be looking through truck loads of papyrus scrolls to back up the assumptions you are making!

These were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I read the book. There definitely was a sense of wonder as I read the blurb. What little information that was available on Amazon's look inside did not satiate me and I did not rest till I bought my own copy of the book.

The Librarian Who Measured The Earth is the picture biography of Eratosthenes, a scholar who lived in 3rd century BC. He was a mathematician, geographer, music theorist and the chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria. The book takes us through the life of Eratosthenes, but of all his achievements it focuses on how he measured the Earth. The process he used is well described in detail by Kathryn Lasky. The illustrations that go with it are not the typical text book illustrations. 

My only comment would be, to instill the sense of wonder, Lasky talks about about ancient Greece, the different radical though processes brewing, the Great Library of Alexandria, which dilutes the book.

And to actually know how Eratosthenes pulled it off(to this date his measurement has been accurate), you could google it. But google does not come with the beautiful illustrations of Kevin Hawkes. So visit your local library and if your library does not have a copy, recommend a buy.


Choxbox said...

Very very intrigued utbt! Going to look hard for the book now.

Also wonder why we don't have as many polymaths in our times as the ancient world seemed to have. Are we too specialised?

sathish said...

wow. utbtkids. That is really intriguing. Need to get hold of this book.

Sheela said...

Indeed, a wonderful book, utbtkids! The 7 yo liked it a lot, even if she did not grasp the intricacies of the measurement and calculations of Eratosthenes... the pictures capture the period and place well.

The part about museums and encyclopedias and libraries can easily make a separate book...

sandhya said...

Oh, wow! Sounds like an interesting book, utbtkids. Loved the historical perspective on solving the problem that you gave. Indeed, we have it comparatively easy with all the technology we have at hand, so thanks are due to Ms Lovelace.

Liked your question, too, Choxbox.

Praba Ram said...

Interesting Math and History inter-twined there! That's one AMAZING librarian indeed.

Will be a great add-on for the 3-D shapes/geometry loving girl at home! Thnks, UTBT!

utbtkids said...

@Chox, interesting! I feel the segregation in terms of 'subjects' starts pretty early today. May be people then thought of learning as acquiring knowledge and saw everything as connected as opposed to subjects?!

@Satish: This book being imported, is expensive in Indian standards. I consider this book as 'library inventory'. Is there a way your local library would take in book recommendations?

@Sheela: Absolutely! The book could have been just about measuring the Earth. Would have made it tighter.

@Sandhya,Praba thanks.

ranjani.sathish said...

Wow..this is a book which my ten year old and me would love to read !

Arundhati said...

Chox and Satishes, maybe collective effort will work and the lib will get a copy?!

utbt - re the segregation of 'subjects', agree with what you've said. Even a few centuries ago, when kings were patrons, there were scholars who were historians, poets, musicians, mathematicians all rolled into one. The struggle to earn a living changed that, I guess. Wonder what the education system was like before the British came to India...

Choxbox said...

Arundhati: There is this amazing work by Dharampal called 'The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian educaton in the Eightheenth Century' which talks about the education system in India before the Brits. The book has detailed statistics on which regions had what kind of enrollment in schools/universities, and says that 98% Indians were literate, and that all castes and parts of society had access to an education. It also details what kind of subjects they learnt and such.

(Dharampal was a Gandhian and did masses of research in indian history using archived records).

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