About Amerisurv| Contact    
Magazine | Newsletter    
Flickr Photos | Advertise    
HomeNewsNewsletterAmerisurv DirectoryJobsStoreAuthorsHistoryArchivesBlogVideosEvents
 
advertisement


Subscriptions
Sponsored By

Software Reviews
Continuing Series
     RTN
An RTN expert provides everything you need to know about network-corrected real-time GNSS observations.
Click Here to begin the series,
or view the Article PDF's Here
76-PageFlip Compilation
of the entire series
Test Yourself

Got Answers?
Test your knowledge with NCEES-level questions.
  Start HERE
Meet the Authors
Check out our fine lineup of writers. Each an expert in his or her field.
Wow Factor
Sponsored By


Product Reviews
Partner Sites

machinecontrolonline 


lbszone.com

GISuser.com

GeoJobs.biz

GeoLearn

 

Spatial Media LLC properties

Associates

ASPRS

newsnow 

Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Book Review: Patrick Chura's Thoreau The Land Surveyor Print E-mail
Written by Patrick C. Garner, PS   
Saturday, 22 July 2017

A 192Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Thoreau The Land Surveyor by Patrick Chura is a unique book that treats Henry David Thoreau, often called America's first environmentalist, as a man strongly influenced in his philosophy by his land surveying practice in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau practiced in the mid nineteenth century, and 2017 is the bicentennial of Thoreau's birth. A review of Chura's book is overdue.

Thoreau's profession--specifically land surveying--is largely ignored in the numerous books about the country's founding naturalist. Chura is correct in observing that Thoreau is lauded for his environmental observations while Thoreau's active survey practice is largely ignored. Yet despite his many biographers focus on his environmental observations--and their obvious difficulty in reconciling that aspect of his life with his surveying practice--before his death Thoreau sums up his life by stating, "I am a surveyor."

Originally published in 2010 by the University Press of Florida (and wisely still in print), Chura's book frames Thoreau's approach to surveying in largely ethical terms. As much as the anti-authoritarian Thoreau resisted complicity with the machinations of everyday commerce, he is pictured here as finally coming to terms with the conflicting necessities of making a living and the purity he believed was necessary for a poet. Yet Chura is also honest in his description of Thoreau's constant anger at the commonness and greed of his clients and at the thanklessness of the physical work itself.

Thoreau prospered for more than a decade as a surveyor in the Concord area because he was considered to be both honest and accurate. He often applied the highest levels of science to many of what were, in reality, run-of-the-mill surveys. The author observes that Thoreau was often subsumed by the beauty of the underlying geometry rather than the job itself. Chura notes that several authors in the past have opined that Thoreau was in fact one of the premier surveyors of that period. And he convincingly makes the case that Thoreau achieved that rarified level because of his passion, honesty and his simple lifelong love of measuring. In other words, Chura believes that Thoreau the businessman excelled because he did not approach surveying as a business but as an art.

He learned the rudiments of surveying at Harvard and then taught himself the advanced intricacies of the profession. Chura attributes Thoreau's passion to his love of orderliness and his natural attraction to the organization required of surveying. It was a necessary job--Thoreau too needed income-- but it became a skill that reinforced his natural instinct to measure, observe and understand.

Chura does fall into the almost inevitable trap of treating Thoreau as a mystic, a spiritual man who therefore struggled with the knowledge that the natural beauty he observed on client's properties would often be destroyed upon completion of his survey. I suspect that the reality was far more mundane. Thoreau is a difficult subject as he has been largely deified over the last century and is viewed today with an awe that presents its own problems. Many of us make the same observations that Thoreau did long ago, and many of us struggle to strike a balance between earning a living and maintaining our sense of what is valuable in nature. Thoreau was hardly unique in this regard.

Much of the joy of reading Chura's book comes from Chura's skill as a writer. He crafts sentences with an easy authority and avoids rambling and academic incoherence. Yet as an academic he at times succumbs to today's academic temptations. If the book has a weakness it is in its occasional stumbling into cultural correctness and a constant allusion to Thoreau's literary significance. We inevitably judge those in the past by present standards, and Chura, as charming a writer as he is, cannot avoid that failing. Unfortunately, in many sections of the book he writes more for his university peers than for surveyors.

In addition, as a surveyor I would have preferred far more analysis of Thoreau's surveys. Chura does look in some detail at Thoreau's famous Walden Pond survey. But Thoreau performed well over 100 boundary and subdivision surveys. Reproducing and discussing the more interesting of those would have been an obvious addition to a book on Thoreau as a surveyor, but that is not the case. Only one of Thoreau's boundary surveys is illustrated. And the Walden Pond survey, which was not a boundary survey at all but rather a magnificent exercise in horizontal and vertical measurement, is the best we get.

But I quibble. This is a book that should be required reading for every practicing surveyor. Chura's strength is in his emphasis on Thoreau's ethics. That high moral sensibility was characterized by Thoreau's neutrality--that is, he treated client and abutter equally--and his obsession with accuracy regardless of his client's demands.

There is no doubt that Thoreau measured things for the sake of measurement, often obsessively. At times he pursued pure knowledge, clearly for the pleasure of the exercise itself. In this regard Thoreau's surveying at times transcended business. Chura masterfully captures this quality of the man.

Chura's book is unique. Even with the book's occasional shortcomings, there is no similar source on Thoreau as a land surveyor. Thoreau The Land Surveyor is recommended as an essential addition to every surveyor's library.

University Press of Florida, 2010.

Patrick C. Garner is a Professional Land Surveyor in Massachusetts who has been in private practice for over 35 years. A Principal of Patrick C. Garner Company Inc., he frequently conducts technical seminars, does peer reviews for cities and towns, and works as an expert witness in Massachusetts' courts. He also provides 15 active on-line continuing education courses through RedVector, many of which focus on legal issues in land surveying.

A 192Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

 
< Prev   Next >

 American Surveyor Recent Articles
Marc Cheves, PS 
Editorial: A Great Year to be a Surveyor
Some magazines have what are called "theme" issues. That is, most of the content is focused on one particular subject. In my 22+ years of survey magazine publishing, my philosophy has always been to have a little bit of everything in each issue, thereby eliminating the possibility that ....
Read the Article
Jason E. Foose, PS 
Decided Guidance: Case Examinations: Halverson v. Deerwood Village
Whew! We really beat the snot out of Bryant v. Blevins and practical locations. Well this month we're back on new case that hit the Minnesota Supreme Court's docket in 1982. We've got the familiar gymnastics of jurisprudence featuring an extraordinary array of flying rope stretchers ...
Read the Article
Michel Philips 
Extreme Environment Surveying
A Franco-Chilean team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 rugged handheld for marine cave surveying, gathering data to classify the inaccessible northern half of Madre de Dios for UNESCO World Heritage. The team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 ....
Read the Article
Erik Dahlberg 
The Original Green Engineers
Sometimes, it's best just to leave things as you found them. That's the lesson shared by Dr. Richard Miksad and his students at the University of Virginia. As a result of studies covering nearly a decade, Miksad's teams have developed detailed ....
Read the Article
Dave Lindell, PS 
Test Yourself 49: No Dimensions
In square A-C-D-B with side S, C-E is tangent to the semicircle Q1 with diameter B-D. Q2 is the inscribed circle of A-C-E. The tangent to Q1 and Q2 meets the sides of the square at F and H and intersects C-E at t G. Q3 is the inscribed circle of C-G-H. What is the ratio of the radii of circles ....
Read the Article
Jerry Penry, PS 
Discovery on Grizzly Peak
When First Lieutenant Montgomery M. Macomb arrived in Carson City, Nevada, from Washington D.C., on July 28, 1878, his assigned survey crew from the 4th Artillery was waiting and ready for the new field season. At age 25, Macomb was the leader ....
Read the Article
Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM 
Vantage Point: Fighting City Hall Over Land
Once upon a time (1989 to be exact) in a place not so far away from where I live, a man (Francis Galdo) bought a home across the street from a vacant parcel owned by the City of Philadelphia. That parcel, along with others, had been acquired by condemnation back in 1974 subsequent to a 1956 ....
Read the Article
Patrick C. Garner, PS 
Book Review: Boundary Retracement: Processes and Procedures
When I was in my mid-twenties and learning the honorable profession of land surveying, I was lucky to be guided by a mentor who would grab a book off his office shelf and say, "Every surveyor should have a copy of this!" The first example he waved at me was Davis, Foote and Kelly's Surveying ....
Read the Article

deliciousrssnewsletterlinkedinfacebooktwitter

Amerisurv Exclusive Online-only Article ticker
Featured Amerisurv Events
List Your Event Here
please
contact Amerisurv


Google
 
AMERISURV TOP NEWS

Javad Intros
Total Solution

GOT NEWS? Send To
press [at] amerisurv.com
Online Internet Content

Sponsor


News Feeds

 
Subscribe to Amerisurv news & updates via RSS or get our Feedburn
xml feed

Need Help? See this RSS Tutorial

Historic Maps
Careers

post a job
Reach our audience of Professional land surveyors and Geo-Technology professionals with your GeoJobs career ad. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.

 

Social Bookmarks

Amerisurv on Facebook 

Amerisurv LinkedIn Group 

Amerisurv Flickr Photos 

Amerisurv videos on YouTube 

twitter

 




The American Surveyor © All rights reserved / Privacy Statement
Spatial Media LLC
7820B Wormans Mill Road, #236
Frederick MD 21701
301-620-0784
301-695-1538 - fax