The Lost Art of Finding Our Way

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $18.95
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 45%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (19) from $18.95   
  • New (13) from $21.75   
  • Used (6) from $18.95   

Overview

Long before GPS, Google Earth, and global transit, humans traveled vast distances using only environmental clues and simple instruments. John Huth asks what is lost when modern technology substitutes for our innate capacity to find our way. Encyclopedic in breadth, weaving together astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way puts us in the shoes, ships, and sleds of early navigators for whom paying close attention to the environment around them was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Haunted by the fate of two young kayakers lost in a fogbank off Nantucket, Huth shows us how to navigate using natural phenomena—the way the Vikings used the sunstone to detect polarization of sunlight, and Arab traders learned to sail into the wind, and Pacific Islanders used underwater lightning and “read” waves to guide their explorations. Huth reminds us that we are all navigators capable of learning techniques ranging from the simplest to the most sophisticated skills of direction-finding. Even today, careful observation of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents, weather and atmospheric effects can be all we need to find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
…[Huth] write[s] plainly and gracefully…The Lost Art of Finding Our Way is…a learned and encyclopedic grab bag, packed with information drawn from study and Huth's own experience.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Peter Monaghan
Lamenting the loss of navigational skills, [Huth] set out to collect in one volume the many schemes that kept our forebears alive. Ancient explorers could, through navigational nous, undertake voyages over great expanses of ocean and land to establish settlements and trade routes, and return home.
Nature
Humanity's lust for exploring terra incognita shaped and tested our prodigious capacity for mental mapping. Now, with the advent of the Global Positioning System, wayfaring skills are on the wane. Physicist John Edward Huth turns explorer in this rich, wide-ranging and lucidly illustrated primer on how to find yourself in the middle of somewhere. Huth's prescription for navigating fog, darkness, open ocean, thick forests or unknown terrain rests first on harnessing compass, Sun and stars; then on the subtleties of weather forecasting and decoding markers such as the wind, waves and tides.
Literary Review - Anthony Sattin

Early humans learned to navigate on land and sea by watching the world around them...Huth recovers some of this history by looking at Norse legends, the records of Arab traders moving across the Indian Ocean and Pacific Islanders...Huth's subject is fascinating...We have lost many of our innate abilities on the way to this technologically

advanced moment in time. But John Edward Huth believes, and his book shows, that some of what was lost can still be found. We just need to relearn how to read the signs.

The Times - Iain Finlayson
Just as we are said to have abandoned the art of memory when we started writing things down, so Huth says that we have lost our instinct for knowing how to get from here to there. Before the scientific revolution we had the ability to interpret environmental information that enabled us to navigate long distances. Huth surveys Pacific Islanders, medieval Arab traders, Vikings and early Western European travellers before examining techniques for navigators to look to the stars for astronomical beacons, as well as to the weather and the water.
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
One of the repeated themes of The Lost Art of Finding Our Way is that even the most confused of us can improve our navigational understanding by paying closer attention to the world around us...A learned and encyclopedic grab bag, packed with information drawn from study and Huth's own experience.
Barnes & Noble Review - Peter Lewis
[An] irresistible book...Huth has an affable, smart tone, as welcoming as a Billy Collins poem. His knowledge of way-finding and its history is rangy and detailed, but his enthusiasm never flickers, lifting the educational factor to higher ground: rewarding, artful, ably conveying what can be some fairly abstruse material, the finer points of navigation being among them. There are, by the way, many, many fine points regarding navigation, and if Huth gets a bit windy in pointing them out, well, let the wind blow. It's refreshing.
Times Higher Education - Robert J. Mayhew
[Huth's] exuberance shines through: he makes gadgets in his garage and narrates adventures at sea. Huth's is a book filled with joy about what we might term the everyday mathematics of living on the Earth...Huth is concerned that we have become desensitized to our physical environment because of technology such as smartphones and global positioning systems, which do the work of plotting and routefinding for us. To live in what Huth dubs 'the bubble' created by such devices is to lose not only our wonder at the world but also a bundle of precious survival skills. To be able to find our way in the world is to reconnect with its value in a virtuous spiral of environmental awareness.
Science - Deirdre Lockwood
The book offers a clear, comprehensive, and entertaining short course in navigation that draws on Earth science, history, anthropology, neuroscience, archaeology, and linguistics. It provides both a primer on navigational techniques and a tour through 'the historical evolution of way finding.' Huth punctuates instruction on celestial navigation and reading wind, weather, and currents with engaging stories and images. These are derived from sources as varied as the oral histories of Pacific Islanders and Inuit hunters, Homer's Odyssey, Icelandic sagas, navigational tables from the medieval Islamic world, and contemporary news reports and sailing accounts.
Wired - Greg Miller
It's a great reference, filled with personal and historical anecdotes and fascinating bits of physics, astronomy, oceanography, and meteorology. And that's one of Huth's central points: To find your way in a world without maps, you can't rely on any single cue--you need to make the best of whatever combination of cues is available to you...With a little study, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way could be your guide to reconnecting with the navigational aids in the world around you.
The Guardian - Arthur Musgrave
Full of wisdom that is fast disappearing in an age of satnav and GPS.
Nature
Humanity's lust for exploring terra incognita shaped and tested our prodigious capacity for mental mapping. Now, with the advent of the Global Positioning System, wayfaring skills are on the wane. Physicist John Edward Huth turns explorer in this rich, wide-ranging and lucidly illustrated primer on how to find yourself in the middle of somewhere. Huth's prescription for navigating fog, darkness, open ocean, thick forests or unknown terrain rests first on harnessing compass, Sun and stars; then on the subtleties of weather forecasting and decoding markers such as the wind, waves and tides.
Times Literary Supplement - Thomas Meaney
John Huth’s The Lost Art of Finding Our Way is a book for anyone who’s ever cursed themselves for not being able to get home by way of the stars and winds. Or for anyone who wants to learn how the Vikings and others once managed to.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Maybe you can't get there from here. I don't know. I'm a stranger here myself. Curmudgeon meets comedian, and neither's a geographer, because geographers never get lost. Until they do. Better to be a Pacific islander — say a Lapita, native to what would much later be known as the Bismarck Archipelago — 3,600 years ago. They knew how to get there, hundreds of miles across lonely seas to some tiny island, by reading the water — ghost current, shadow swell, the long fetch — and birdwatching: boobies and plovers and frigates, all wanderers too.

John Edward Huth likes to wander. He'll wander into a pea- soup fog in his kayak and then find his way home via subtle environmental clues. Taking in the lay of the land, the surface of the water, the feel of the wind, the signs from above: way- finding, which is what his irresistible book, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way, covers. Huth could easily teach geography at Harvard — now that Harvard has seen the error of its ways and shaken awake its geography program — but he teaches physics at the university, evidenced by his tossing out keen insights into the movement of water and wind. But he also has an instinctive awareness of place and its organization - - a kind of amplified proprioception, of geography as a way of being in the world — as well as an eagerness to know the space around him as intimately as possible, spending time outdoors and learning the process of finding your way. Then there are the clues, serving as guides: the sound of a buoy, moss on a tree, the running lights of an oceangoing freighter, a church steeple (churches are oriented to the east), cloud warnings, and stars — Castor, Altair, Deneb, Pollux, Betelgeuse. "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or / loose the bands of Orion? / Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or / canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?" (Huth, reading from the Book of Job.)

Huth has an affable, smart tone, as welcoming as a Billy Collins poem. His knowledge of way-finding and its history is rangy and detailed, but his enthusiasm never flickers, lifting the educational factor to higher ground: rewarding, artful, ably conveying what can be some fairly abstruse material, the finer points of navigation being among them. There are, by the way, many, many fine points regarding navigation, and if Huth gets a bit windy in pointing them out, well, let the wind blow. It's refreshing.

He delights in storytelling: How the Norse found North America over a thousand years ago, along the way bumping into a small colony of Irish monks living on Iceland; the Polynesians making their epic open-water voyages; medieval Arabs finding Cathay. So, too, in solving problems: How to reduce a two-dimensional search problem to a linear one or, better, a point. There is the psychology of way-finding, and especially of getting lost. "The strategies used by the lost mimic how people live their lives; it can serve as a metaphor." Some people sample various routes, some barrel ahead, some bounce around randomly. "Others just want to get high and take in the view." Maybe René Descartes couldn't relate, but I suspect many of us do.

Then there are those who get lost and die. Happens all the time; the dock was right there, the hut a stone's throw away, but fog or night or a blizzard had set in. Though the spirit of Huth's book is light and learned, there is something ominous playing in the background. When you can't find your way, take a breath. Huth's advice: "It's best for the lost person to stay where he is and engage in a quiet activity, such as making a small campfire, which can alleviate anxiety." Sounds like a plan. Bring matches.

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674072824
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2013
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 219,803
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John Edward Huth is Donner Professor of Science in the Physics Department at Harvard University.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Four: Dead Reckoning



If you were on a desert island, how could you measure distances and communicate these to others? Readily available measures are on our body and in the environment. In ancient Egypt short measures were based on finger, hand, and arm lengths. The ancient Egyptian cubit is the length of the forearm. Longer units of distance were based on travel. The word mile comes from the Latin phrase mille pacem, which means “a thousand paces”. Roman legionnaires kept track of the distance traveled by counting paces. A pace is the distance you cover when the same foot (left or right) hits the ground. Two steps – left then right - equal one pace.

This practice of counting paces isn’t limited to humans. At least one species of ant navigates by counting paces. Harald Wulf studied ant habits by gluing tiny stilts onto their legs or cutting off sections of their legs to change the length of their paces. In Wulf’s study the distance the desert ants (Cataglyphis) traveled was directly related to how many paces they took. Ants with stilts would walk past a target and ants with shortened legs would come up short in a way that was consistent with pace counting.

Another natural measure is based on travel time. If you were giving directions to a friend driving a car, you might say something like “You stay on the interstate for two hours and take exit twenty-seven.” This assumes that everyone travels at the same speed, but it is usually clear from the context how fast your friend moves. Distance traveled (miles) is speed (miles per hour), times time, (hours).

The hour was and is one of the most widely used units of time. It has its origins in the ancient Egyptian use of rising stars to reckon the time of night. They used 36 bright stars in all, which would rise just before the sun in turn at different times of the year. The passage of one night was associated with the passage of 12 of these bright stars giving rise to the night being divided into 12 hours. The day was likewise divided into 12 units. This scheme, dating from roughly the fifth century BC, became widely adopted, but it was far from universal. Medieval Saxons reckoned the length of day in tides, with eight tides in one day.

Three miles per hour was, and is, a good reference for human-powered travel. This is how fast most people walk on level ground, how fast a person can row a boat, and how fast an old sailboat can move on water. It is far from universal. You could be running or limping, but it is a reliable standard shared among travelers and widely understood. If you convert this speed with an hour into a distance, it is three miles. In ancient Persian and Arab cultures, a parasang or farsakh was a unit based on this same combination of speed and time. The length of a league is close to the farsakh and is also based on the distance covered by a person in an hour. Longer distances can be reckoned in how many days or lunar months elapse over the course of a journey. Native Americans used these lengths of time as standards. A marhalah is a day’s journey in medieval Islamic reckoning and is equal to roughly eight farsakhs (24 miles), or eight hours of travel.

These are still viable measures. If GPS devices and odometers vanished overnight we could fall back on human measures instantly. When I tested a group of 30 students, they took 980 paces per mile, which is very close to the one thousand originating from soldiers in ancient Rome! They also averaged a walking speed of 3 miles per hour, so the concepts of a mile, farsakh, and league are true to their origins.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2014

    Great read, fantastic insight

    Great read, fantastic insight

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)