Local author explains ‘Whatever Happened to the Metric System?’

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This book sounds like kilograms of fun!

The story of how the metric system came to be the standard mode of measure for almost every country in the world — basically, everywhere except the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar — is a slice of interesting and weird history that not many people know. But Brooklyn author John Marciano is hoping to change that with his new book “Whatever Happened to the Metric System? How America Kept Its Feet.”

“People think it is just one more place where Americans are stupid or stubborn,” said Marciano, who will launch the book at Greenpoint’s Word bookstore on Aug. 12. “But I think there is something very important about keeping these units of measurement alive.”

The book looks at how other countries made the shift from the imperial unit of measure over to the metric system — and why the United States did not. The United States actually had planned to inch its way into the new system, too — President Gerald Ford even signed the Metric Conversion Act in 1975. But it was hard to create the momentum to make the changes, explained Marciano.

“There were some things that people got very upset about and some things they did not care about,” he said. “No one cared about their fifth of vodka changing to liters but they absolutely hated seeing ‘kilometer per hour’ on road signs.”

Marciano is the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, who created the “Madeline” children’s book series, and Marciano himself has written and illustrated several recent “Madeline” titles. But he has also written several books that aren’t about precocious French schoolgirls, including “Anonyponym­ous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words” and “Toponymity: An Atlas of Words.” It was while writing these more serious tomes that he first became interested in units of measurement.

“I found out about words like ‘fathom,’ which means to take a sounding to measure how deep water is,” said Marciano.

John Marciano presents “Whatever Happened to the Metric System?” at Word [126 Franklin St. at Milton Street in Greenpoint, (718) 383–0096,]. Aug. 12 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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