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Irony and genius

Daniel Kehlmann's bestselling novel offers a comic view of some of Germany's great thinkers. In doing so, it mocks the very idea of German high culture

By Philip Oltermann   March 2007

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann (Pantheon Books, $23)

In 2006, a 32-year-old German novelist who has been likened to Nabokov, Proust and García Márquez outsold, in Germany, books by JK Rowling and Dan Brown. At first sight, Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World (Die Vermessung der Welt) looks like a perfect example of cerebral German Hochkultur. From a British perspective, it is hard to understand how a novel about two real 18th-century scientists—the physician and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss—can…

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