Linklater, Andro Measuring America

ISBN 13: 9780007108879

Measuring America

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9780007108879: Measuring America

The epic story of how the gigantic land of America acquired its unique shape across 3000 miles of territory, and how the largest land survey in history paved the way both for a colossal sale of property and for the embedding of democracy and the spirit of independence in the psyche of Americans.

The sheer scale of it makes the measuring of America extraordinary. Beginning in 1785, it became the largest land survey in history stretching from the Ohio river to the Pacific coast and from Lake Erie to the Mexican border. It prepared the ground for the sale of almost two billion acres, and shaped landscapes and cities across the US more drastically than any event since the last ice age.

Before the survey could begin, there had to be agreement about what kind of measurement should be used. What made the 18th-century debate so critical was the revolution taking place in Western thought as objective, scientific reasoning challenged the traditional, subjective view of the world. A battle began between those (like the British) supporting a centuries-old organic form of measurement (ounces and pounds, yards and acres) and the modernizers, like Thomas Jefferson, who backed a system based on scientific observation.

The effects of the measuring of America on the landscape and people (native and immigrant) were huge and long-lasting; the story itself an exotic blend of narrative history and popular science.

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From the Back Cover:

'Like most visitors to the United States,' writes Andro Linklater, 'it was the shape of the place I first fell in love with – the spectacular grid of city blocks, the squared-off American Gothic farms, and the long straight roads that caught the imagination of Jack Kerouac and every drive-movie director you can think of. It has always struck me as utterly astonishing that such a coherent pattern could have occurred across a three-thousand-mile continent. How did it happen? Who shaped the gigantic land?

'Measuring America' sets out to answer these questions in lucid and graphic terms. In May 1785 Congress authorised the survey and sale of the land west of the Ohio River. In what proved to be the greatest property deal of all time, the US government eventually measured out and sold over a billion acres stretching from Canada to Mexico. The grid it imposed upon the unmapped land determined the configuration of states, counties, farms and towns. Not only was the American landscape shaped for ever – so was the American psyche.

The hero of this mighty enterprise was the wayward seventeenth-century British genius Edmund Gunter, whose twenty-two-yard chain imprinted its dimensions on every parcel of land in the United States. It was the means by which wilderness was turned into private property. 'Measuring America' is a brilliant exploration of the colossal power of measurement.

About the Author:

Andro Linklater has been a writer for twenty years. He is the author of The Black Watch (with his father, Eric Linklater); Charlotte Despard: A Life; Compton Mackenzie: A Life (winner of the Scottish Arts Council Biography of the Year Award); Wild People: Travels with Borneo’s Head Hunters; and The Code of Love (Weidenfeld 2000).

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