Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Review of Alfred W. Crosby’s The Measure of Reality

The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600
is a very learned book which attempts to show how the intellectual leaps in the middle ages were made possible as a result of westerners learning to quantify their world.

The first part of the book addresses the types of quantification specifically in space, time and mathematics. The second part of the book addresses visualization in music, painting, and bookkeeping.

The book was OK. I did not come out with a wonderful new appreciation for how things work or anything like that. There were some good discussions on the new number systems, and the use of currency, mapmaking, and the double entry bookkeeping system. But altogether I did not see how that caused anything. There was no picture woven together.

The author is clearly well-read and knows much about painting and music and other things of that era. But there was no coherence to the whole theory, nor was there a proof that this was somehow unique.

I am hesitant to endorse this, though it was not bad in any way. It just felt somewhat dissatisfying.

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