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

Marguerite Holloway. Norton, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-07125-2
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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. Agent: Elaine Markson, Markson Thoma Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/22/2012
Release date: 02/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 372 pages - 978-0-393-34790-6
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-393-08980-6
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