A vivid description of one of the most ambitious scientific projects undertaken in the 19th century, and the men who undertook the measurement of the Himalayas and the mapping of the Indian subcontinent: William Lambton and George Everest.
The graphic story of the measurement of a meridian, or longitudinal, arc extending from the tip of the Indian subcontinent to the mountains of the Himalayas.
Much the longest such measurement hitherto made, it posed horrendous technical difficulties, made impossible physical demands on the survey parties (jungle, tigers, mountains etc.), and took over 50 years. But the scientific results were commensurate, including the discovery of the world’s highest peaks and a new calculation of the curvature of the earth’s surface.
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 triggered a massive construction of roads, railways, telegraph lines and canals throughout India: all depended heavily on the accuracy of the maps which the Great Arc had made possible.
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Imagine a world without maps, a world where distance, height and depth cannot be taken for granted and where any journey is largely guesswork. Now imagine trying to chart some of the most dangerous and inhospitable terrain with only a few basic instruments and a handful of porters. Yup. It could only be the Brits. The Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, begun in 1800, was the longest measurement of the Earth's surface ever to have been attempted. By the time it was completed 50 years later, more than 1,600 miles of the Indian sub-continent from its southern tip to the Himalayas together with the precise curvature of the Earth, had been surveyed inch-perfectly, effectively opening up the county to the present-day network of roads, railways and telegraph systems. Today, it still remains both one of the great scientific achievements of the 19th century and a lasting testament to Britain's colonial folie de grandeur. Mapping the sub-continent was a mathematical nightmare and the computations could have filled a library. However, it was also a technical nightmare. Each reading could only be confirmed from a location whose precise co-ordinates and height above sea-level were also known, so the operation involved a snail-like zig-zag along every metre of the country, through jungle, rivers and across mountain ranges. Death and disease stalked the operation with countless casualties lost to malaria and wild animals, but the single-minded Brits persevered. John Keay is something of an old India hand with four histories of the sub-continent already to his credit, but The Great Arc could just make him a household name. It has the chatty tones of other small-scale histories, such as Longitude, and a similar cast of eccentric characters--not least William Lambton and George Everest, the two commanders of the expedition. The result is an intelligent and highly readable account of a long-forgotten historical backwater that fills one with awe for both the high-minded determination and stupidity of our forebears, while leaving one profoundly grateful that no one is now expected to follow in their footsteps. -- John CraceReview:
"A triumph." -- Andrew Taylor, Literary Review
"More extraordinary than any fiction." -- Mail on Sunday
"This wonderful book - is a fitting monument not just to Everest but also to the Great Arc itself." -- William Dalrymple, Sunday Times
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Book Description HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS LTD, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110002570629