The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named

The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named

by John Keay

Its 1,600 miles of inch-perfect survey took nearly fifty years.

Snowy mountains and tropical jungles, floods and fevers, tigers and scorpions all took their toll on the band of surveyors as they crossed the Indian subcontinent carrying instruments weighing half a ton.Willian Lambton, an endearing genius, had conceived the idea; George Everest, an impossible martinet, completed it.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.88
  • Pages: 224
  • Publish Date: August 1st 2001 by Harper Perennial
  • Isbn10: 0060932953
  • Isbn13: 9780060932954

What People Think about "The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named"

This book won't interest everyone, but it is a bit of history and will interest anyone who wants to learn more about life in the 19th century, even if you don't have too much interest in the technical side of surveying.

Packed with meticulously researched details both in India and in England, Keay enriches it further with some things gained from his own recent traversing of the Great Arc. The book is packed with memorable characters such as William Lambton, the meticulous and slightly eccentric father of the survey who also intended the Arc as a giant experiment to measure the geodesy of the globe (the "curve"), apart from mundane activities such as mapping India. Overall, the book is now all the more poignant and important because the works of people such as Lambton and Everest (along with their life's work which was the Great Arc) are largely forgotten, both in India and England, which is a crying shame.

Notably the book has exactly three lines on Radhanath Sikdar.

The Great Arc is an account of the Trigonometric Survey of India, a mammoth exercise to survey and map the Indian sub-continent from Kanyakumari (then Cape Comorin) to Kashmir and from the Indus delta to Burma, an exercise that commenced in 1802 and was completed only in 1870. The book traces the history of the Trigonometric Survey from its conceptualisation and commencement in 1802 by its first superintendent William Lambton until the mid 1830's under his successor George Everest. The book restricts itself to the first thirty or so years of the survey that took nearly seventy and traces the events during the course of its first two superintendents: William Lambton, an unassuming but much loved person with a zeal for perfection and his successor George Everest, a man with an equal zeal for perfection but loathed by his sub-ordinates for his abrasive and abusive ways. There is some reference to the administrative, logistical and practical difficulties that these men had to face, but the book is neither a humanistic account that presents the dynamics of the what-how-why nor a research treatise that delves into the technical details. Needless to add, such acts would have generated tremendous animosity and ill-will among the local population, with implications for the survey and the fledgling administration of the East India Company.

Although it was British policy retain local names for geographic features whenever possible, there is an equal amount of griping about local chiefs who protest surveyors overlooking their property and/or their women.

John Keay is the author of about 20 books, all factual, mostly historical, and largely to do with Asia, exploration or Scotland.