World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement

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W. W. Norton & Company, Oct 24, 2011 - Science - 317 pages
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The epic story of the invention of a global network of weights, scales, and instruments for measurement.

Millions of transactions each day depend on a reliable network of weights and measures. This network has been called a greater invention than the steam engine, comparable only to the development of the printing press.

Robert P. Crease traces the evolution of this international system from the use of flutes to measure distance in the dynasties of ancient China and figurines to weigh gold in West Africa to the creation of the French metric and British imperial systems. The former prevailed, with the United States one of three holdout nations. Into this captivating history Crease weaves stories of colorful individuals, including Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of the metric system, and American philosopher Charles S. Peirce, the first to tie the meter to the wavelength of light. Tracing the dynamic struggle for ultimate precision, World in the Balance demonstrates that measurement is both stranger and more integral to our lives than we ever suspected.
 

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WORLD IN THE BALANCE: The Historic Quest for a Universal System of Measurement

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A look at how weights and measures evolved over the ages, and their importance as a social bond.Physics World columnist Crease (Philosophy/Stony Brook Univ.; The Great Equations, 2009, etc.) starts ... Read full review

Contents

The Noonday Cannon
13
Ancient China Feet and Flutes
35
West Africa Gold Weights
53
France Realities ofLife and Labor
69
Halting Steps Toward Universality
99
One ofthe Greatest Triumphs
126
Metrophilia and Metrophobia
149
Surely Youre Joking Mr Duchamp
167
Dreams ofa Final Standard
183
Universal System The SI210
210
The Modern Metroscape
227
Au Revoir Kilogram
249
epilogue
269
Illustration Credits
295
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About the author (2011)

Robert P. Crease is the chairman of the philosophy department at Stony Brook University and the author of several books on science, including The Quantum Moment and The Great Equations. He lives in New York City.

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