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Longitude [Paperback]

Dava Sobel
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins (2010)
  • ISBN-10: 000789015X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007890156
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,813,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest. The 'longitude problem' was the thorniest dilemma of the eighteenth century. Lacking the ability to measure longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost. At the heart of Dava Sobel's fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and horology, stands the figure of John Harrison, self-taught Yorkshire clockmaker, and his forty-year obsession with building the perfect timekeeper. Battling against the establishment, Harrison stood alone in pursuit of his solution and the 20,000 reward offered by Parliament.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but dry 21 Aug 2013
Format:Hardcover
Finding the latitude in the 17th century was straightforward, but finding the longitude was extremely difficult. This compromised the safety of all seafarers, and in one particular incident around 200 lives were lost of the Isles of Scilly.

The admiralty of the day decided to set up a Longitude board and offer a prize to the inventor of a method to reliably calculate the longitude of a vessel. Various methods were tried, including one that took lunar sightings developed by Nevil Maskelyne.

Enter John Harrison. He taught himself to read and write, and was a proficient musician, his real talent was clocks. His first wooden pendulum clock is still in existence, held at The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. And it was this talent that he put to good use to start to develop the devices that would enable the navy to know their exact longitude.

His first attempt at a device was called H-1 and has lots of new technologies including frictionless bearings, the gridiron pendulum and the grasshopper escapment. This clock lost a second a month compared to the best clocks of the day that would loose 1 minute a day. The clock is still working.

He presented the drawings to the Longitude board, and they gave permission to make one. The clock passed the tests, but as it improved the board decided to amend the original tests make them tougher. Harrison went on to develop 4 versions to meet these changing requirements, culminating in a 5 inch diameter watch that did the same as the H-1.

By this time Nevil Maskelyne was head of the Longitude board. He made it extremely difficult for Harrison as he wanted his preferred lunar method to win. Harrison complied with the demanding requirements, and surrendered his clocks to the board.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally fascinating 5 Feb 2013
Format:Hardcover
So many women have written so many great books on history (Fraser's The Gunpowder Plot, Scurr's Robespierre, Eisler's Byron, Collingridge's Cook, Salmond's Bligh, Alexander's Bounty, Ann Wroe's Perkin, Weir's The Princes in the Tower, Wise's The Italian Boy) that I'm beginning to wonder if there's a special historian gene that only women possess. Which brings us to Dava Sobel's LONGITUDE. Sobel does a wonderful job of telling the story of how longitude was finally pinpointed, a discovery which allowed Britain to become an empire. Sobel tells us about 4 warships lost in 1707 because of a miscalculation. A seaman aboard, before the disaster, had warned the captain that he, the seaman, had been keeping track of distances, and that they were all in for trouble if they continued forward. The captain had him hanged for mutiny! But due to this incident, London offered 20,000 pounds (millions in today's money, writes Sobel) for someone who could find a way to calculate longitude. What was needed was an exact clock (Sobel explains why) which was difficult because clocks needed oil, but oil speeded up or slowed down a clock depending on temperature. William Harrison finally built a clock, 4 feet high, 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide, weighing in at 75 pounds! Little by little he did better until he finally won the money, 40 years after his first version! Alas, Harrison never explained how he came upon the discovery of gems--rubies and diamonds--for his clocks. Totally fascinating.
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Unhappy 1 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am still waiting for my playing card order. Longitude looked like it was taked out of a rubbish bin. Not a happy bunny.

R. H. Watts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent volume about a mundane subject 23 Sep 2013
By Annie E. Schaff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Like Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit", Dava Sobel's "Longitude" is much more than the title would indicate. Dava Sobel writes infectiously about what something we take for granted today, the ability to find location at sea. This had been a major problem before John Harrison successfully harnessed accurate timing at sea. Sobel's volume has Harrison at its center, but she writes also about the other figures surrounding Harrison's battle to win the longitude prize. We get to see the many foes who stood in his way, the inept solutions ( some quite laughable ) and the legacy which Harrison bequeathed to the world. Sobel writes eloquently of the era of scientific discovery in Europe, how people in science thought, and, in general, makes a rather mundane subject quite entertaining. The discovery of longitude was a long, slow process. (The final prize was even slower in coming to Harrison). That his sea clocks survive today is quite a miracle. That some of them still work is even more so. John Harrison is a largely unsung figure in maritime navigation, and Dava Sobel has sung his song quite well.
5.0 out of 5 stars Longitude 7 Jan 2014
By Dottie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Longitude was a book that my husband requested, and he was very pleased to receive it as a gift. He was in the Navy, and it was a great book.
5.0 out of 5 stars history at its best 26 May 2013
By William E. Hendry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
based upon the movie which I watched, I was driven to read the book. John Harrison was a great man.
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally fascinating 5 Feb 2013
By Boyd Hone - Published on Amazon.com
So many women have written so many great books on history (Fraser's The Gunpowder Plot, Scurr's Robespierre, Eisler's Byron, Collingridge's Cook, Salmond's Bligh, Alexander's Bounty, Ann Wroe's Perkin, Weir's The Princes in the Tower, Wise's The Italian Boy) that I'm beginning to wonder if there's a special historian gene that only women possess. Which brings us to Dava Sobel's LONGITUDE. Sobel does a wonderful job of telling the story of how longitude was finally pinpointed, a discovery which allowed Britain to become an empire. Sobel tells us about 4 warships lost in 1707 because of a miscalculation. A seaman aboard, before the disaster, had warned the captain that he, the seaman, had been keeping track of distances, and that they were all in for trouble if they continued forward. The captain had him hanged for mutiny! But due to this incident, London offered 20,000 pounds (millions in today's money, writes Sobel) for someone who could find a way to calculate longitude. What was needed was an exact clock (Sobel explains why) which was difficult because clocks needed oil, but oil speeded up or slowed down a clock depending on temperature. William Harrison finally built a clock, 4 feet high, 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide, weighing in at 75 pounds! Little by little he did better until he finally won the money, 40 years after his first version! Alas, Harrison never explained how he came upon the discovery of gems--rubies and diamonds--for his clocks. Totally fascinating.
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally fascinating 5 Feb 2013
By Boyd Hone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
So many women have written so many great books on history (Fraser's The Gunpowder Plot, Scurr's Robespierre, Eisler's Byron, Collingridge's Cook, Salmond's Bligh, Alexander's Bounty, Ann Wroe's Perkin, Weir's The Princes in the Tower, Wise's The Italian Boy) that I'm beginning to wonder if there's a special historian gene that only women possess. Which brings us to Dava Sobel's LONGITUDE. Sobel does a wonderful job of telling the story of how longitude was finally pinpointed, a discovery which allowed Britain to become an empire. Sobel tells us about 4 warships lost in 1707 because of a miscalculation. A seaman aboard, before the disaster, had warned the captain that he, the seaman, had been keeping track of distances, and that they were all in for trouble if they continued forward. The captain had him hanged for mutiny! But due to this incident, London offered 20,000 pounds (millions in today's money, writes Sobel) for someone who could find a way to calculate longitude. What was needed was an exact clock (Sobel explains why) which was difficult because clocks needed oil, but oil speeded up or slowed down a clock depending on temperature. William Harrison finally built a clock, 4 feet high, 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide, weighing in at 75 pounds! Little by little he did better until he finally won the money, 40 years after his first version! Alas, Harrison never explained how he came upon the discovery of gems--rubies and diamonds--for his clocks. Totally fascinating.
My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.
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