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

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by Dava Sobel
     
 

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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. Thousands of lives, and the increasing

Overview

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. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution. The scientific establishment of Europe-from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton-had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, 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 Harrisons 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While sailors can readily gauge latitude by the height of the sun or guiding stars above the horizon, the measurement of longitude bedeviled navigators for centuries, resulting in untold shipwrecks. Galileo, Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley entreated the moon and stars for help, but their astronomical methods failed. In 1714, England's Parliament offered 20,000 (equivalent to millions of dollars today) to anyone who could solve the problem. Self-educated English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) found the answer by inventing a chronometer-a friction-free timepiece, impervious to pitch and roll, temperature and humidity-that would carry the true time from the home port to any destination. But Britain's Board of Longitude, a panel of scientists, naval officers and government officials, favored the astronomers over humble ``mechanics'' like Harrison, who received only a portion of the prize after decades of struggle. Yet his approach ultimately triumphed, enabling Britannia to rule the waves. In an enthralling gem of a book, former New York Times science reporter Sobel spins an amazing tale of political intrigue, foul play, scientific discovery and personal ambition.
Library Journal
If you've grown up at a time when orbiting satellites were taken for granted, you'd probably not find reading a book about longitude an enticing prospect. But Sobel, an award-winning former science reporter for The New York Times who writes frequently for Audubon, Discover, LIFE, and Omni magazines, has transformed what could have been a dry subject into an interesting tale of scientific discovery. It is difficult to realize that a problem that can now be solved with a couple of cheap watches and a few simple calculations at one time appeared insurmountable. In 1714, the British Parliament offered a king's ransom of 20 million ($12 million in today's currency) to anyone who could solve the problem of how to measure longitude at sea. Sobel recounts clockmaker John Harrison's lifelong struggle to win this prize by developing a timepiece impervious to the pitch and roll of the sea. His clock, known today as the chronometer, was rejected by the Longitude Board, which favored a celestial solution.--James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Library, Chicago
School Library Journal
Opening with a chapter that outlines what follows, Sobel whets readers' appetites for hearing the colorful details of the search for a way for mariners to determine longitude. In an age when ships' stores were limited and scurvy killed many a seaman, missing a landfall often meant death-as, of course, did running aground. Sobel provides a lively treatment of the search through the centuries for a ready answer to the longitude problem, either through using lunar tables or through making an accurate clock not subject to the vicissitudes of weather and ocean conditions. Her account includes not only scientific advances, but also the perseverance, pettiness, politics, and interesting anecdotes that figured in along the way (it wasn't limes, for example, that first prevented scurvy on English ships, but sauerkraut). A pleasing mixture of basic science, cultural history, and personality conflicts makes this slim volume a winner.-Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA
From the Publisher

“This is a gem of a book.” —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

“A simple tale, brilliantly told.” —Washington Post Book World

“As much a tale of intrigue as it is of science…A book full of gems for anyone interested in history, geography, astronomy, navigation, clockmaking, and--not the least--plain old human ambition and greed.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Only someone with Dava Sobel's unusual background in both astronomy and psychology could have written it. Longitude is a wonderful story, wonderfully told.” —Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses

“The marine chronometer is a glorious and fascinating object, but it is not a simple one, and its explanation calls for a writer as skilled with words as the watchmakers were with their tools; happily such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel.” —Patrick O'Brian, author of The Commodore and the Aubrey/Maturin series

author of The Commodore and the Aubrey/Maturin ser Patrick O'Brian
The marine chronometer is a glorious and fascinating object, but it is not a simple one, and its explanation calls for a writer as skilled with words as the watchmakers were with their tools; happily such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802779434
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/05/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
56,835
File size:
222 KB

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Imaginary Lines

When I'm playful Is use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales.

--MARK TWAIN, Life on the Mississippi

Once on a Wednesday excursion when I was a little girl, my father bought me a beaded wire ball that I loved. At a touch, I could collapse the toy into a flat coil between my palms, or pop it open to make a hollow sphere. Rounded out, it resembled a tiny Earth, because its hinged wires traced the same pattern of intersecting circles that I had seen on the globe in my schoolroom--the thin black lines of latitude and longitude. The few colored beads slid along the wire paths haphazardly, like ships on the high seas.

My father strode up Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center with me on his shoulders, and we stopped to stare at the statue of Atlas, carrying Heaven and Earth on his.

The bronze orb that Atlas held aloft, like the wire toy in my hands, was a see-through world, defined by imaginary lines. The Equator. The Ecliptic. The Tropic of Cancer. The Tropic of Capricorn. The Arctic Circle. The prime meridian. Even then I could recognize, in the graph-paper grid imposed on the globe, a powerful symbol of all the real lands and waters on the planet.

Today, the latitude and longitude lines govern with more authority than I could have imagined forty-odd years ago, for they stay fixed as the world changes its configuration underneath them--with continents adrift across a widening sea, and national boundaries repeatedly redrawn by war or peace.

As a child, I learned the trick for remembering the difference between latitude and longitude. The latitude lines, the parallels, really do stay parallel to each other as they girdle the globe from the Equator to the poles in a series of shrinking concentric rings. The meridians of longitude go the other way: They loop from the North Pole to the South and back again in great circles of the same size, so they all converge at the ends of the Earth.

Lines of latitude and longitude began crisscrossing our worldview in ancient times, at least three centuries before the birth of Christ. By A.D. 150, the cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy had plotted them on the twenty-seven maps of his first world atlas. Also for this landmark volume, Ptolemy listed all the place names in an index, in alphabetical order, with the latitude and longitude of each--as well as he could gauge them from travelers' reports. Ptolemy himself had only an armchair appreciation of the wider world. A common misconception of his day held that anyone living below the Equator would melt into deformity from the horrible heat.

The Equator marked the zero-degree parallel of latitude for Ptolemy. He did not choose it arbitrarily but took it on higher authority from his predecessors, who had derived it from nature while observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and planets pass almost directly overhead at the Equator. Likewise the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, two other famous parallels' assume their positions at the sun's command. They mark the northern and southern boundaries of the sun's apparent motion over the course of the year.

Ptolemy was free, however, to lay his prime meridian, the zero-degree longitude line, wherever he liked. He chose to run it through the Fortunate Islands (now called the Canary & Madeira Islands) off the northwest coast of Africa. Later mapmakers moved the prime meridian to the Azores and to the Cape Verde Islands, as well as to Rome, Copenhagen, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, Pisa, Paris, and Philadelphia, among other places, before it settled down at last in London. As the world turns, any line drawn from pole to pole may serve as well as any other for a starting line of reference. The placement of the prime meridian is a purely political decision.

Here lies the real, hard-core difference between latitude and longitude--beyond the superficial difference in line direction that any child can see: The zero-degree parallel of latitude is fixed by the laws of nature, while the zero-degree meridian of longitude shifts like the sands of time. This difference makes finding latitude child's play, and turns the determination of longitude, especially at sea, into an adult dilemma-one that stumped the wisest minds of the world for the better part of human history.

Any sailor worth his salt can gauge his latitude well enough by the length of the day, or by the height of the sun or known guide stars above the horizon. Christopher Columbus followed a straight path across the Atlantic when he "sailed the parallel" on his 1492 journey, and the technique would doubtless have carried him to the Indies had not the Americas intervened.

The measurement of longitude meridians, in comparison, is tempered by time. To learn one's longitude at sea, one needs to know what time it is aboard ship and also the time at the home port or another place of known longitude--at that very same moment. The two clock times enable the navigator to convert the hour difference into a geographical separation. Since the Earth takes twenty-four hours to complete one full revolution of three hundred sixty degrees, one hour marks one twenty-fourth of a spin, or fifteen degrees. And so each hour's time difference between the ship and the starting point marks a progress of fifteen degrees of longitude to the east or west. Every day at sea, when the navigator resets his ship's clock to local noon when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and then consults the home-port clock, every hour's discrepancy between them translates into another fifteen degrees of longitude.

Those same fifteen degrees of longitude also correspond to a distance traveled. At the Equator, where the girth of the Earth is greatest, fifteen degrees stretch fully one thousand miles. North or south of that line, however, the mileage value of each degree decreases. One degree of longitude equals four minutes of time the world over, but in terms of distance, one degree shrinks from sixty-eight miles at the Equator to virtually nothing at the poles.

Precise knowledge of the hour in two different places at once--a longitude prerequisite so easily accessible today from any pair of cheap wristwatches--was utterly unattainable up to and including the era of pendulum clocks. On the deck of a rolling ship, such clocks would slow down, or speed up, or stop running altogether. Normal changes in temperature encountered en route from a cold country of origin to a tropical trade zone thinned or thickened a clock's lubricating oil and made its metal parts expand or contract with equally disastrous results. A rise or fall in barometric pressure, or the subtle variations in the Earth's gravity from one latitude to another, could also cause a clock to gain or lose time.

For lack of a practical method of determining longitude, every great captain in the Age of Exploration became lost at sea despite the best available charts and compasses. From Vasco da Gama to Vasco Nunez de Balboa, from Ferdinand Magellan to Sir Francis Drake--they all got where they were going willy-nilly, by forces attributed to good luck or the grace of God.

As more and more sailing vessels set out to conquer or explore new territories, to wage war, or to ferry gold and commodities between foreign lands, the wealth of nations floated upon the oceans. And still no ship owned a reliable means for establishing her whereabouts. In consequence, untold numbers of sailors died when their destinations suddenly loomed out of the sea and took them by surprise. In a single such accident, on October 22, 1707, at the Scilly Isles near the southwestern tip of England, four homebound British warships ran aground and nearly two thousand men lost their lives.

The active quest for a solution to the problem of longitude persisted over four centuries and across the whole continent of Europe. Most crowned heads of state eventually played a part in the longitude story, notably King George III of England and King Louis XIV of France. Seafaring men such as Captain William Bligh of the Bounty and the great circumnavigator Captain James Cook, who made three long voyages of exploration and experimentation before his violent death in Hawaii, took the more promising methods to sea to test their accuracy and practicability.

Renowned astronomers approached the longitude challenge by appealing to the clockwork universe: Galileo Galilei, Jean Dominique Cassini, Christiaan Huygens, Sir Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley, of comet fame, all entreated the moon and stars for help. Palatial observatories were founded at Paris, London, and Berlin for the express purpose of determining longitude by the heavens. Meanwhile, lesser minds devised schemes that depended on the yelps of wounded dogs, or the cannon blasts of signal ships strategically anchored--somehow--on the open ocean.

In the course of their struggle to find longitude, scientists struck upon other discoveries that changed their view of the universe. These include the first accurate determinations of the weight of the Earth, the distance to the stars, and the speed of light.

As time passed and no method proved successful, the search for a solution to the longitude problem assumed legendary proportions, on a par with discovering the Fountain of Youth, the secret of perpetual motion, or the formula for transforming lead into gold. The governments of the great maritime nations--including Spain, the Netherlands, and certain city-states of Italy--periodically roiled the fervor by offering jackpot purses for a workable method. The British Parliament, in its famed Longitude Act of 1714, set the highest bounty of all, naming a prize equal to a king's ransom (several million dollars in today's currency) for a "Practicable and Useful" means of determining longitude.

English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping, devoted his life to this quest. He accomplished what Newton had feared was impossible: He invented a clock that would carry the true time from the home port, like an eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world.

Harrison, a man of simple birth and high intelligence, crossed swords with the leading lights of his day. He made a special enemy of the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth astronomer royal, who contested his claim to the coveted prize money, and whose tactics at certain junctures can only be described as foul play.

With no formal education or apprenticeship to any watchmaker, Harrison nevertheless constructed a series of virtually friction-free clocks that required no lubrication and no cleaning, that were made from materials impervious to rust, and that kept their moving parts perfectly balanced in relation to one another, regardless of how the world pitched or tossed about them. He did away with the pendulum, and he combined different metals inside his works in such a way that when one component expanded or contracted with changes in temperature, the other counteracted the change and kept the clock's rate constant.

His every success, however, was parried by members of the scientific elite, who distrusted Harrison's magic box. The commissioners charged with awarding the longitude prize--Nevil Maskelyne among them--changed the contest rules whenever they saw fit, so as to favor the chances of astronomers over the likes of Harrison and his fellow "mechanics." But the utility and accuracy of Harrison's approach triumphed in the end. His followers shepherded Harrison's intricate, exquisite invention through the design modifications that enabled it to be mass produced and enjoy wide use.

An aged, exhausted Harrison, taken under the wing of King George III, ultimately claimed his rightful monetary reward in 1773-after forty struggling years of political intrigue, international warfare, academic backbiting, scientific revolution, and economic upheaval.

All these threads, and more, entwine in the lines of longitude. To unravel them now--to retrace their story in an age when a network of geostationary satellites can nail down a ship's position within a few feet in just a moment or two--is to see the globe anew.

Meet the Author

Dana Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileos Daughter, The Planets, co-author of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.
Dava Sobel (born June 15, 1947) is the author of Longitude, Galileos Daughter, The Planets, and most recently A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. A former staff science reporter for The New York Times, she has also written for numerous magazines, including Discover, Harvard Magazine, Smithsonian, and The New Yorker.

Her most unforgettable assignment at the Times required her to live 25 days as a research subject in the chronophysiology lab at Montefiore Hospital, where the boarded-up windows and specially trained technicians kept her from knowing whether it was day outside or night.

Her work has won recognition from the National Science Board, which gave her its 2001 Individual Public Service Award "for fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the general public." She also received the 2004 Harrison Medal from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in England and the 2008 Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for "increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy."

A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, she has taught several seminars in science writing at the university level, and looks forward to a two-year residency at Smith College beginning in fall 2013.

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Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 110 reviews.
BWasvick More than 1 year ago
Longitude by Dava Sobel is the story of English clockmaker John Harrison who competed for a prize from the English government to discover an effective way to track longitude. He had no formal education but learned how to read from his father. His father taught him many trades, and with these trades and a love of reading, Harrison made a clock just by studying a textbook. Without being able to calculate longitude ships never really knew where they were or were going on long voyages, thus causing many wrecks and deaths of sailors. There was thought there might be a celestial solution. The problem with using the stars was that you had to be extremely skilled as an astronomer and have a great knowledge of the stars movement to figure location. With nobody being able to solve the longitude problem the British government set up a prize committee in 1714 called the Board of Longitude to help inventors financially so they could try and find a way to calculate longitude. Harrison finishes four sea clocks, each one better than the last, but the Board of Longitude will not award him the prize. The Board of Longitude favors astronomer Nevil Maskelyne and his lunar distance method theory, which attempts to use the moon to track longitude. He never gets the prize from the Board of Longitude who continued to use any means necessary to not allow him to win. Harrison's clock was finally recognized by King George III and Parliament who, despite the Board of Longitude putting him down, awarded Harrison with the money that was rightfully his. Clock making became a huge business after Harrison's success and the mass production of his sea clock became a priority. I'm not a big reader, to say the least, but honestly, I really enjoyed the read. These days it's just expected that our cruise ship or airplane will get to exactly where it's going. Honestly, I have never thought twice about it. I never realized what a big impact not being able to calculate longitude had on the sailing world. Ships would wreck all the time simply because they couldn't calculate where they were. The book had plot, and a good storyline, and a good climax, and a happy ending. I though I was reading fiction. You are drawn in by the main character's story and you feel for him in his struggle to win the prize, and all the obstacles he faces in creating his longitude clock and all of the people trying to set him up for failure. And finally in the end it all works out and you are happy for him. I really enjoyed Longitude. It's not at all the kind of book I expected. It's an entertaining story and wouldn't you know, I learned something too. Who would have thought learning could be fun, right? Seriously, if you have an interest in sailing, travel, history, or even just clocks then this is a book definitely worth checking out for a light read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would be much more conversant on science and technology if Dava Sobel had been a teacher at my school. Someone recommended this book to me. I was enthralled, pressed it on everyone I knew, and went to the Clockmaker's Guild in London to see the various versions of the instrument. This book is the centerpiece of my "Recommend But Never Lend" bookshelf, along with her book on the planets.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One reviewer mentioned it would make a great movie, well...AandE did just that. I use it every year in my science class when we study maps.
williamlweaver More than 1 year ago
Fantastic read that would make an awesome Hollywood blockbuster movie. It has all the ingredients: High-technology, High-sea adventure, Villainous politicians, and a persistent genius of common birth who wins the day. All the more awesome as it is a true story. Contains many historical figures and scientists whose names have been remembered over the centuries. Dava Sobel is an engaging author that presents an historical account that reads like a murder mystery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very good, short read. This is one of those stories that makes you think deeply about how one invention or discovery can drive civilization forward. I disagree with the reviewer who stated this is not genius or science. The invention of the chronometer required application of scientific principles, and if it was so easy to develop, why didn't anyone else do it sooner? Of course, it is also a human interest story or how could the author sell books to the general (non-science) community at large. A brilliant move by the author to educate the general population on an important discovery in human history that most probably have never heard of or considered the contribution.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I pulled into a shopping center parking lot late one afternoon but before I got out of the car, I picked up an advanced reading copy of Longitude just to look at the first few pages. I read this slim volume from cover to cover and never got out of the car. I spent the rest of the year trying to convince every employee and visitor to our building that Longitude was the gift book of the season. This saga of science and seafaring is an adventure story of exploration and discovery. It demonstrates the tension between theory and experimentation and the clash between the academic and the artisan. That a craftsman such as John Harrison could crack the mystery of longitude calculation with a mechanical rather than an astronomical solution was not acceptable to the educated establishment. But Harrison's ingenuity saved many lives, revolutionized transportation and expanded the world economy. By resurrecting this forgotten figure of the Age of Enlightenment, Dava Sobel has done lovers of history and science a signal service. And it's a terrific read to boot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My husband and I chose this book for our couples' book group at the recommendation of our son who is a sea captain and voracious reader. The short length of the book also added appeal, and we had a very good discussion which evolved into talk of other problems of great value to the human race which took a long time to solve. We made the discussion current by inviting the group to name unsolved problems for our planet, both physical and ethical. The men in our group included a middle school math teacher, an engineer, a former member of the Coast Guard, and a former Navy officer. Everyone was most enthusiastic about our choice and all fifteen participants read the book, which is rare!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Latitude and longitude are fundamentally different. Rotation of Earth endows our planet with an axial symmetry. So while finding latitude is relatively easy, determining longitude is not. Save the moon and the planets, the night sky looks exactly the same if you travel along the parallel 15 degrees to the east east, or simply wait for an hour. Without an accurate clock and a sextant, this made navigation on the open sea a black magic. For any expanding overseas empire, this was serious matter. Serious enough that the British Parliament offered a high prize -- several millions dollars in today's money -- in 1714 for solving the longitude problem.

By 1730, the world still did not have any practical and reliable method of finding longitude. By 1760, it had two. One of them, backed by Britain's the most influential astronomers of the time, included a quadrant (later sextant) and tabulated ephemerides. With them, a skilled navigator could have calculated its position within hours, in clear weather. The other method required only an accurate clock. If the clock can tell you your home time, you only need to determine your local noon -- when the shadows are the shortest -- and the difference between the two tells you your longitude. This method was backed by a lone clockmaker, John Harrison. This book is about him, about his life-long pursuit of a reliable, seaworthy chronometer, and his battle with the scientific establishment.

Eighteen-century mechanics, while far from trivial, is intuitive enough to make explaination of the internal workings of a shiny brass clockwork a wonderful topic. With some diagrams and explanations of Harrison's ingenious inventions, this book could easy become any engineer's dream. Perhaps the illustrated edition (ISBN 0802713440) comes closer to this ideal. Ms. Sobel, although allegedly a science writer, was more interested in the socio-political aspects of the story, and hardly touches the engineering part. Deliberately neglecting the engineering audience, the book is far from being a historical scholarly text either. She writes in an easy-to-read, journalese style. Fair enough, some thirty references are listed in the end for anyone willing to pursue the topic further. So while you cannot claim you've learned a lot of science or history, Longitude still makes a great beach reading. And of course, reading this book is a must for anyone planning to visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, where the clocks are exhibited.

Jasonbyrdwithay More than 1 year ago
I started out reading this book just for a science project, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually did enjoy this book. I found it to be a very interesting book because, it is not like most history books. This book was written in a way that a person with no scientific background could understand the actions of brilliant scientists took to solve a very big problem of its day. The book was written in more of a story telling mode and kept my interest throughout the entire book. I could emotionally relate to all of the people with the problem of its time. So many lives were lost and so much money was lost from wasted cargo and sunken ships. It was interesting to see the politics of the times too and how that impacted the timeline of finding the ultimate solution. It is funny to me that so many brilliant men took hundreds of years to finally figure out a solution. Because humans were involved their egos do too of course and their political position impacts the actions to create a clock that was ship worthy. John “Longitude” Harrison was a good man that was dedicated to his science and what he created has had a positive impact on the human race for hundreds of years. His legacy will live on forever. Sobel has a great talent in writing. Her work was interesting to read and still was accurate in her facts. She made the scientists in the book understandable and “real”. I wish more history books took this concept and brought the information to life.
Julia Sexton More than 1 year ago
Longitude reads like a novel, but is the true story of John Harrison's search for a time piece to aid ships find their way across the oceans. The book makes a great companion to the dvd.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had heard about this book of course but demands of time didn't get me back to it until I first read Sobel's current bestseller Galileo's Daughter. They are different kinds of books with regard to their stories but the ability of this author to bring the story to life shines through in both. Longitude meets the great challenge of having not only to research and bring back to life a rather small 'niche' in the history of man's technological search but also make the story relevant to today and illustrative of all endeavors that involve the pioneer and his ability be breach that gap required by inventiveness. This book will definitely keep you going. Galileo, on the other hand, has a special human touch, brought to it by the letters and reminds much of the story-telling method used by the other book I recommend below. Sobel deserves the kudos. Tough to know whether Longitude or Galileo's Daughter would have been better as first or second books!
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A great story about a man who was determined to solve the longitude problem for sailors.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We only get to know the works of this low profile man who is responsible for safer sea travel. We learn much more about his adversaries with their agendas and their quest for prominence. It is a story of mans perseverance against insurmountable odds
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book details one of the great back-stories of history. Everyone knew determining longitude was a huge problem, but only a handful of people even had an idea how to solve it. The British government provided the incentive of a great prize and fabulous wealth to the winner of the contest, yet it still took decades to find the answer. As you might expect, greed and egos clashed as history was being made. Dava Sobel lays out the challenge and then provides an up-close view of the people toiling to find a solution. He interweaves this story with the great characters of British naval history, as everyone has a vested interest in finding the answer. This is a great read for any history buff. It's a little short, but it provides a true nugget about something we just take for granted today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book details the importance of design and construction of a clock that maintains accurate time under the rigors of the difficult conditions of life aboard a ship. The ability to maintain accurate time is essential to enable navigators to determine precise longitude at sea. The changes in temperature, humidity, and tortuitous motions of life aboatd a sailing ship challenge clock design. The book explains the differences between relying on a dependable timepiece compared to the predictability of positions of celestial bodies. The book relates the interaction of the many people involved in developing the attempts at design and construction and also those judging the merits of various design concepts.