The Man behind "Degrees Celsius":
A Pioneer in Investigating the Earth and its Changes

Martin Ekman

Summer Institute for Historical Geophysics, Åland Islands, 2016
ISBN 978-952-93-7732-9
Hard cover, 159 pages, 45 figures

Description of the book (from its back cover)

This is a book about an unknown person with a well-known name, Anders Celsius, a book about his life and works. It is, thereby, also a book about the beginning of systematically investigating the Earth and its changes.

Celsius may be characterized as a pioneer in investigating the Earth by means of systematic observations and by collecting long series of numerical data. In the early 1700s he and his assistants measured and studied latitude, longitude, gravity, magnetism, sea level change, land uplift, air pressure, temperature and northern lights. Much of Celsius’ inspiration for his works came from his participation in an international expedition to the Arctic Circle, the purpose of which was nothing less than trying to confirm the theories of Newton. In many respects Celsius concentrated on utilizing Sweden’s northerly position on the Earth, promoting such investigations that could not easily be made in more southerly countries.

This book is the story of the life and works of a man who started from meagre circumstances in an isolated northern university but developed into a pioneering Earth scientist with international contacts. It is also the story of a scientist who was engaged in creating an observatory and supporting an academy for the benefit of society but who died in the middle of his activities. And it is also the story of a person who made friends easily everywhere but never found someone with whom to share a common life.

In short: This is a book about science, about history, about people and about a life.

Table of contents


  1. The unknown man with the well-known name: An introduction
  2. Where and when: Official and personal background
    2.1 University and science: From clerical control to academic freedom
    2.2 Father’s parents: The quarrelling astronomer and his wife
    2.3 Mother’s parents: The quiet astronomer and his wife
    2.4 Father and mother: The unhappy astronomer and his wife
  3. Curiosity and unpaid work: Student and young scientist
    3.1 Growing up
    3.2 A novelty
    3.3 Up in the church tower, down in the silver mine
    3.4 Waiting in Uppsala
  4. Out in the world: For or against Newton?
    4.1 A safe position
    4.2 Via Berlin to Rome
    4.3 In Paris: A turning point
    4.4 In London: Preparing for the north
    4.5 To the Arctic Circle: Stars and ice
    4.6 Was Newton right?
  5. At home again: Investigating the unknown Earth
    5.1 An observatory for investigating the Earth
    5.2 Latitude, longitude and mapping
    5.3 Gravity and the Earth’s shape
    5.4 Land uplift / water decrease and history
    5.5 Sea level and the atmosphere
    5.6 Temperature, air pressure and climate change
    5.7 Magnetism and magnetic changes
    5.8 Northern lights and a big surprise
    5.9 Science, family and friendship – and love?
  6. After Celsius: An unusual heritage
    6.1 The sudden end of life
    6.2 The decline of the observatory
    6.3 A new observatory in Stockholm
    6.4 The unknown man with the well-known name: Looking back

Appendix: A dramatic love story