Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Plume; Reissue edition (September 30, 2003)
Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
Best Sellers Rank: #174,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #18 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Engineering > Civil & Environmental > Surveying & Photogrammetry #217 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Engineering > Reference > History #380 in Books > Science & Math > Earth Sciences > Geography
The subtitle of this highly readable book is a bit purple -- "How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy" -- but what the author has to say makes a good case. It's also an amazingly action-packed adventure story. Any genealogist learns early the practical ins and outs of frontier settlement and the titles, grants, and other documents that land claims inevitably produce. In this country, there are two distinct methods of recording those claims: "metes and bounds" in the original colonies and some of their western lands (such as Kentucky) and in Texas, which describe the boundaries of one's land in terms of the points at which it adjoins or "meets" a neighbor's land, and the rectangular survey system developed for use in the public land states created from the nation's later territorial acquisitions. The latter is far more rational and allows a claim to be filed based on geographical location without having actually set foot on the land -- but it also requires preliminary measurement by a party of government surveyors. Linklater lays out in much detail, and with colorful anecdotes, how the first surveys were decided upon and carried out (more or less) in the Northwest Territory, and later in the Plains states and the West. He describes how, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. nearly adopted a rational metric system early in its history (which in France and Prussia was an instrument of centralized government policy), and how that goal was waylaid by clinging to Edmund Gunter's English chain/furlong system, which had the virtue of being easily understood by semi-literate surveyors with minimal mathematical skills.
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