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The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor

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Description

“Randel is endlessly fascinating, and Holloway’s biography tells his life with great skill.”—Steve Weinberg, USA Today
John Randel Jr. (1787–1865) was an eccentric and flamboyant surveyor. Renowned for his inventiveness as well as for his bombast and irascibility, Randel was central to Manhattan’s development but died in financial ruin. Telling Randel’s engrossing and dramatic life story for the first time, this eye-opening biography introduces an unheralded pioneer of American engineering and mapmaking.
Charged with “gridding” what was then an undeveloped, hilly island, Randel recorded the contours of Manhattan down to the rocks on its shores. He was obsessed with accuracy and steeped in the values of the Enlightenment, in which math and science promised dominion over nature. The result was a series of maps, astonishing in their detail and precision, which undergird our knowledge about the island today. During his varied career Randel created surveying devices, designed an early elevated subway, and proposed a controversial alternative route for the Erie Canal—winning him admirers and enemies.

The Measure of Manhattan is more than just the life of an unrecognized engineer. It is about the ways in which surveying and cartography changed the ground beneath our feet. Bringing Randel’s story into the present, Holloway travels with contemporary surveyors and scientists trying to envision Manhattan as a wild island once again. Illustrated with dozens of historical images and antique maps, The Measure of Manhattan is an absorbing story of a fascinating man that captures the era when Manhattan—indeed, the entire country—still seemed new, the moment before canals and railroads helped draw a grid across the American landscape.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 22, 2012 – Between 1808 and 1865, John Randel Jr. altered the landscape of New York City by proposing, surveying, and establishing the current grid system of the modern city; during the same years, the inveterate and peripatetic genius also surveyed and divided portions of upstate New York, trudged hundreds of miles, laying out turnpikes and surveying routes for several of the country s earliest railroads, and sounded the Hudson River south of Albany in order to determine how ships might navigate the waters more easily. In this fascinating biography of a figure mostly eclipsed by the city s other sculptor, Robert Moses, Holloway traces Randel s life and career from his work mapping the grid of Mannahatta to his plans for an elevated rail line and his constant efforts to improve the tools of his trade. Randel invented a number of devices including a water level, a theodolite, and various measuring rods for use in surveying parcels of land. The figure that emerges from Holloway s admiring portrait is a man who obsessed over precision, hoped his ideas would improve the world, loved finding solutions to problems, and who strove to see how best to move from the present into the future. 63 illus.
The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Feb 18, 2013
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Print Length: 336 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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