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The present book is the scientific story behind the scene on the axis of France that passes through Paris. The Paris Meridian is the name of this location. It is the line running north-south through the astronomical observatory in Paris. One of the original intentions behind the founding of the Paris Observatory was to determine and measure this line. The French government financed the Paris Academy of Sciences to do so in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. It employed both astronomers - people who study and measure the stars - and geodesists - people who study and measure the Earth.
This book is about what they did and why. This is the first English language presentation of this historical material. It is attractively written and it features the story of the community of scientists who created the Paris Meridian.
To establish the Paris Meridian, the scientists endured hardship, survived danger and gloried in amazing adventures during a time of turmoil in Europe, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War between France and Spain. Some were accused of witchcraft. Some of their associates lost their heads on the guillotine. Some died of disease. Some won honour and fame. One became the Head of State in France, albeit for no more than a few weeks. Some found dangerous love in foreign countries. One scientist killed himself in self defence when attacked by a jealous lover, another was himself killed by a jealous lover, a third brought back a woman to France and then jilted her, whereupon she joined a convent.The scientists worked on practical problems of interest to the government and to the people. They also worked on one of the important intellectual problems of the time, a problem of great interest to their fellow scientists all over the world, nothing less than the theory of universal gravitation. They succeeded in their intellectual work, while touching politics and the affairs of state. Their endeavours have left their marks on the landscape, in art and in literature.
Introduction: On the Trail of The Da Vinci Code.- The Incroyable Pique-nique and the Meridienne Verte.- The Paris Meridian.- The Size of France.- The Shape of the Earth.- The Meridian and the Sun.- The Revolution and the Metre.- The Paris Meridian in the Napoleonic Wars.- Past its Prime.- The Greenwich and Paris Meridians in the Space Age.- Walking the Line: the Arago Memorial. Bibliography. Acknowledgements.
Paul Murdin is the Treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society and Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University
From the reviews: "This book was clearly a labor of love; Murdin has brought his passion for astronomy and its history to a topic which on the surface appears quite apart from this activity. ! The publisher has supported Murdin's effort with a physically appealing, aesthetic work, on high quality paper, complete with lovely diagrams and photographs. ! I recommend it for the general reader. ! For the motivated reader, the effort will be well rewarded with a picaresque journey through a relatively unknown section of scientific history." (Library Thing, May, 2009) "The immediate impression of the book is quality ! . Murdin starts the journey with a very brief introduction to the relationship between mapping latitude and longitude and the movement of astronomical bodies such as Jupiter. ! Throughout the entire book, Murdin skillfully balances the technical details mapping techniques and instruments ! . Overall, this book is a handsome, quality, very readable volume that deserves a prominent position in any history of science and engineering." (Library Thing, April, 2009) "British astronomer Murdin ! carefully examines the history of the Paris meridian in a work designed to highlight the adventures connected with the performance of what many might see as rather tedious research. ! In a report that stretches over centuries, Murdin is careful to define terms, introduce the important characters, and include many nice illustrations. ! Summing Up: Recommended. General readers." (M.-K. Hemenway, Choice, Vol. 46 (10), June, 2009) "This modestly priced volume takes us on three journeys. The first is across the globe ! to discover the true figure of the Earth, and all this amid the turmoil surrounding the French Revolution. ! The second journey is through time, in which the role of the meridian is discussed ! . And finally, we are taken on a journey across Paris, along the meridian ! provided that the book can act as a guide for those wishing to follow the trail for themselves." (David Stickland, The Observatory, Vol. 129 (1213), December, 2009)