Friday, August 29, 2014

Case Study No. 1542: Eratosthenes, the Librarian Who Measured the Earth

Children Book Review: The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky, Kevin Hawkes

This is a book review of The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky, Kevin Hawkes.
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NARRATOR: This is the summary of "The Librarian Who Measured the Earth" by Kathryn Lasky, Kevin Hawkes. A colorfully illustrated biography of the Greek philosopher and scientist Eratosthenes, who compiled the first geography book and accurately measured the globe's circumference.



The librarian who measured the earth
Kathryn Lasky
Houghton Mifflin, 2001

This picture book covers the life of Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a geographer who estimated the circumference of the Earth in around 200 B.C.. Though he was in fact a librarian, he is famous for his scientific accomplishments. Since little is known about his personal life, Lasky describes his early years in general terms. He liked to ask questions, loved learning at the gymnasium, and sailed off to Athens to further his studies. He became tutor to the son of King Ptolemy III of Egypt, and eventually became the head of Alexandria's magnificent library. Readers don't come to know the subject intimately, but they do get to know his times very well. The narrative is filled with fascinating details about his world. Hawkes's illustrations make a large contribution, as they contain authentic examples of the art, architecture, and social structure of ancient life. His paintings are rich and warm and filled with touches of humor, making the people, as well as their environment, come alive. The pictures combine with the text to give a clear explanation of how the man came to make his key discovery about the Earth's circumference. A fine combination of history, science, and biography.



It was at the Alexandria Museum that punctuation and grammar were invented by Aristophenes. Before this, one word ran into the next, with no spaces between them. There were no question marks, periods, or exclamation points either. Reading was hard!

And two thousand years ago, books were handwritten on scrolls of animal skins or papyrus, paper made from a tall grass that grows along the Nile. In the Library at Alexandria, there were 700,000 papyrus scrolls and 40 librarians who, just like modern day librarians, helped readers find what they were looking for and kept the materials in order.

Each scroll was rolled up on a painted stick and tied with a colored string, with a name tag attached. Often, the scrolls were tucked into clay jars or simply placed on wooden shelves. There was a lot of rolling and tagging and tying that had to be done to keep a library as large as the one in Alexandria in order.

Eratosthenes fit right in with all his questions and ideas. In fact, he got a new nickname - "Pentathlos." The word refers to an athlete that competes in five different events. It had also come to mean an "all-arounder" in Greek. They called him that because Eratosthenes was good at so many different things.

It was not long after he arrived that the head librarian died, and Eratosthenes was appointed in his place. For a question-asker and a list-maker like Eratosthenes, being the head librarian was a dream come true. Now he could start to find answers to all of his questions, and the questions that were beginning to interest him the most were the ones right under his own two feet. Questions about the earth, questions about geography.

As chief librarian, Eratosthenes was kept busy helping other scholars find information. He also had to keep in the good graces of his employer, King Ptolemy, who had a touchy and nervous temperment.

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