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Smoot's Ear: the measure of humanity

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Robert Tavernor|
Yale University Press (31 May 2007)

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, unconnected to the human form, 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 practising architect and leads an influential London-based consultancy, which is currently advising 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. 

Press cuttings

The Tech, USA
Book Explores History of Measurement, MIT Smoot; Author, Smoot Visit Institute (2 Oct)
The story of the MIT Smoot is gaining new fame, thanks to a recently-published book called Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity. Oliver R Smoot, the Smoot's namesake, was on hand to hear author Robert Tavernor, an architect and professor of architecture and urban design at the London School of Economics and Political Science, discuss the book last Tuesday.
http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N43/smoot.html| 

Bloomberg
Why Harvard bridge is measured in smoots, meters are inhuman (17 Aug)
For two millennia, brilliant minds have been trying to find a logical system of measuring the world that everyone can agree upon. While this doesn't bother British architect Robert Tavernor, it does fascinate him. In Smoot's Ear, he offers a brief history of humanity's effort to measure the world by scientific principle, even as science itself has changed our knowledge. Robert Tavernor is director of the Cities Programme and professor of architecture and urban design at LSE.
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=af7TfGqQBfPY&refer=muse| 

Independent Extra
The distance from here: man-made measurements and what they mean (9 July)
Review of Robert Tavernor's book Smoot's Ear: the measure of humanity. Robert Tavernor is Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at LSE.

Smoot's Ear was also reviewed in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine (8 July), The Sunday Times Culture Magazine (24 June) and in July's editions of Architecture Today and The Architectural Review.

Building Design 
The war of Smoot's ear (11 May)
Article about Robert Tavernor's new book Smoot's Ear: the measure of humanity and the lecture he gave to launch the book at LSE. Robert Tavernor is director of the Cities Programme and Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at LSE.
http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=429&storycode=3086667| 

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