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Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann
Measuring the World imagines the lives of two famous German men, explorer Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss. Both men spent their lives measuring the world, but with totally different methods. Humboldt fills his life with purpose, exploring far off places to quench his thirst for adventure and usefulness. He doesn't just observe what he finds, he must measure it and experience it, even going so far as grabbing electric eels to feel their charge. Gauss, on the other hand, tends to stay indoors, counts prime numbers in his head, and is obsessed with women. He's so precocious with his knowledge of the world that he feels trapped in the wrong era. The two meet late in their lives, looking back at their attempts to understand their world and their lives. Daniel Kehlmann's novel, already a bestseller in Germany, has received positive reviews with the Raleigh News & Observer saying, "That a 31-year-old writer has done this with zest and humor, historical range and impressive authority, feels like a fortuitous theft. Kehlmann has picked Nature's pocket and offered us the marvelous booty."