Smoot's Ear

The Measure of Humanity

Robert Tavernor

View Inside Price: $25.00

September 24, 2007
224 pages, 5 x 8
20 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300124927

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Out of Print

Measures are the subject of this unusual book, in which Robert Tavernor offers a fascinating account of the various measuring systems human beings have devised over two millennia. Tavernor urges us to look beyond the notion that measuring is strictly a scientific activity, divorced from human concerns. Instead, he sets measures and measuring in cultural context and shows how deeply they are connected to human experience and history.
The book explores changing attitudes toward measure, focusing on key moments in art, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, and the development of scientific thought. It encompasses the journey of Western civilization from the construction of the Great Pyramid to the first manned flight to the moon. Beginning with a review of early measuring standards that referred to the feet and inches of ideal bodies, the book then tracks how Enlightenment interest in a truly scientific system of measure led to the creation of the metric system. This “rational” approach to measure in turn has inspired artists, architects, writers, and others to seek a balance that takes the human story into account. Tavernor concludes with a discussion of measure in our own time, when space travel presents to humankind a direct encounter with the unfathomable measure of the universe.

Robert Tavernor is professor of architecture and urban design and director of the Cities Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is also a practicing architect and leads an influential London-based consultancy that advises on buildings that will affect the future skyline of London. His previous books include On Alberti and the Art of Building, published by Yale University Press. He lives in London and Bath.

"Robert Tavernor's entertaining and thought-provoking lecture challenges how we measure..."---Catherine Croft, Building Design

"At the book's heart is the changeover from ancient methods of measurement based like Smoot on the human body, to the metric system, derived from a more 'scientific' measurement of the earth's dimensions...It's a story that Tavernor tells well, with an acute awareness of the ironies and human failings it contains." --- Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times

"Tavernor writes with commendable clarity and economy." -Tibor Fischer, The Sunday Telegraph

"[Tavernor's] raw material is fascinating, and his argument appealing." -Jonathan Sale, The Independent

"Tavernor has uncovered an entertaining and quirky world." -The First Post

"...a highly readable account of the measuring systems man devised over two millennia...The book explores changing attitudes to measurement focusing on art, architecture, philosophy and the development of scientific thought." - Architectural Review

"An interesting and novel approach to understanding how mankind measures things. . . . Anyone with an even passing curiosity about history in general, and especially how various aspects of history—politics, art, science, geography—all find themselves interconnected, should be drawn to this book. . . . Tremendously rewarding."—Isaac M. McPhee, Suite 101

"For humor, quirkiness, and, most especially, relevance in an opening anecdote, it's hard to top the story in Robert Tavernor's Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity. . . . A scholarly work with a broad and deep examination of units of measurment both ancient  and modern." —Ray Bert, Civil Engineering