Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation

Overview

"The compass' rocky evolution is charted with an enthusiast's passion....A fascinating adventure."—Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles TimesCompass chronicles the misadventures of those who attempted to perfect the magnetic compass—so precious to sixteenth-century seamen that, by law, any man found tampering with it had his hand pinned to the mast with a dagger. From the time man first took to the seas until only one thousand years ago, sight and winds were the sailor's only navigational aids. It was not until the development of the compass that maps

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Overview

"The compass' rocky evolution is charted with an enthusiast's passion....A fascinating adventure."—Bernadette Murphy, Los Angeles TimesCompass chronicles the misadventures of those who attempted to perfect the magnetic compass—so precious to sixteenth-century seamen that, by law, any man found tampering with it had his hand pinned to the mast with a dagger. From the time man first took to the seas until only one thousand years ago, sight and winds were the sailor's only navigational aids. It was not until the development of the compass that maps and charts could be used with any accuracy—even so, it would be hundreds of years and thousands of shipwrecks before the marvelous instrument was perfected. And its history up to modern times is filled with the stories of disasters that befell sailors who misused it. In this page-turning history of man's search for reliable navigation of treacherous sea routes around the globe, Alan Gurney brings to life the instrument Victor Hugo called "the soul of the ship."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British writer, photographer and yacht designer Gurney (The Race to the White Continent) sets his sights on the events leading to the invention Victor Hugo called "the soul of the ship." Centuries ago, a sailor's directional aids were winds and vision. Until the compass was developed in the 12th century, maps and charts could not be used with accuracy, but "the path from lodestone to global positioning systems has been a tortuous one... marked by wrecks and sailors' bones." Gurney begins with the Scilly Islands catastrophe of 1707, when "shoddy compasses" led to the death of 2,000 men in "the worst shipwreck disaster ever suffered by the Royal Navy." Early discoveries that lodestone could magnetize a needle were followed by a parade of devices and experiments. With the circumnavigation of the globe in 1522, "the whole world was magically transformed into an oyster for traders... explorers, and mariners: an oyster ready and waiting to be opened, not with a sword, but by a compass needle." In 1901, the magnetic compass was "unseated from its throne" by the gyrocompass, yet Gurney concludes by noting that despite 20th-century technological upgrades, the magnetic compass remains "a fail-safe measure." An appendix itemizes deviations of the compass needle from the magnetic north; the 20 illustrations include maps, charts, compass cards and woodcuts. Bibliographic notes filling 24 pages indicate Gurney's exhaustive research for this engaging foray into vistas and voyages of the past. (June 28) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327137
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/17/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 979,538
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Gurney is a former yacht designer and photographer living in Suffolk, England. His previous books include Compass and Race to the White Continent.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Dead reckoning 19
Ch. 2 Needle and stone 31
Ch. 3 The rose of the winds 41
Ch. 4 Variation and dip 55
Ch. 5 Edmond Halley, polymath 69
Ch. 6 To compass the globe 77
Ch. 7 Halleyan lines 87
Ch. 8 Dr. Gowin Knight and his magnetic machine 99
Ch. 9 Knight's compass 109
Ch. 10 The shocks of tempestuous seas 119
Ch. 11 Any old iron, any old iron 135
Ch. 12 The book of bearings 149
Ch. 13 The Flinders bar 161
Ch. 14 Soft iron, hard iron 175
Ch. 15 "An evil so pregnant with mischief" 187
Ch. 16 Deviation, the hydra-headed monster 199
Ch. 17 The "inextricable entangled web" 211
Ch. 18 Gray's binnacle 225
Ch. 19 Thomson's compass and binnacle 235
Ch. 20 The selling of a compass 247
Ch. 21 A question of liquidity 261
Epilogue : from needle to spinning top 273
App Deviation 277
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