Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
Longitude The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time Author:Dava Sobel Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day—and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Th... more »ousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution—a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.« less
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I am not a scientific minded person. But I do love history so this really fascinated me only because I wanted to know why it was so important. This is a great tale of a man on a mission who would not give up or give in to any one. This guy was a genius. Read it to just enjoy his story or to learn the science behind know longitude in an age when clocks were the only high tech devices around.
Leo T. reviewed Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time on + 1775 more book reviews
Not a book with footnotes, but pleasant to read and my copy is the 14th printing, so it has sold well--a book about 18th C. technology! I think I liked best the last chapter, where the author visits the observatory at Greenwich.....
Mary S. reviewed Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time on + 10 more book reviews
My sextant is in storage, my sailboat racing days gone, and I've forgotten how to be first over the line anyway. However, this book brought some of it back to me in a very entertaining way. I wish it had been available to me back in the old days when boredom took over in those doldrums.
Ms. Sobel has done a good job of making the longitude problem interesting. Many documentary makers could have used her input. I highly recommend this book to others who may wonder about how sailors survived without GPS and satellites for their computers.
Travel during the Age of Exploration was a risky venture. Most sailors had the ability to figure out latitude by the day, the sun or guide stars. Longitude, however, was another story. Despite attempts by astronomers such as Galileo, Cassini, Huygens, Newton, and Halley, difficulty in finding an accurate method of determining longitude persisted for over four centuries. Longitude is the story of John Harrison, an 18th century English clockmaker who devoted his life to developing a chronometer accurate enough to be used to determine longitude at sea.
So, the story is fascinating--or it would be if the book wasn't a mess. Sobel presents Longitude as a work of historical non-fiction for a general audience, but fails to fully leave behind an academic style. Apparently she thinks writing for a general audience means avoiding discussions of science beyond the surface level, and tossing organization out the window. Yet, for some reason, she hangs on to the academic standard of presenting the entirety of her ideas right away. Which means, after reading the first chapter, later chapters feel like little more than repetition.
Honestly, I wanted to like this book. But, less than 50 pages in I was bored. I hear there's a NOVA episode and a Jeremy Irons movie--I'd recommend watching one of those over reading the book. Or, just read the first chapter.
I found it fascinating despite its small size. I didn't realize how difficult it was for sailors to know their location at sea before longitude could be accurately determined. And the persecution Harrison dealt with from the astrological community was completely unfair - but he really should have seen it coming. I'm glad that his work was recognized in his lifetime. And despite my lack of interest in mechanics of any kind I have a strong desire to see his sea clocks in the Guildhall in London ... I wonder if I'll ever get the chance.