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Longitude Paperback – 4 Jun 1998


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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New edition edition (4 Jun. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857025717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857025712
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 10.4 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 669,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The thorniest scientific problem of the 18th century was how to determine longitude. Many thousands of lives had been lost at sea over the centuries due to the inability to determine an east-west position. This is the engrossing story of the clockmaker, John "Longitude" Harrison, who solved the problem that Newton and Galileo had failed to conquer, yet claimed only half the promised rich reward. --Amazon.com

Review

‘Perhaps the most famous book about getting lost since “The Odyssey”.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘An extraordinary tale of political intrigue and academic back-biting, of intellectual brilliance, and mechanical genius, of heroic endeavours and downright dishonesty … a superb achievement.’ Spectator

‘A true life thriller, jam-packed with political intrigue, international warfare, personal feuds and financial skullduggery.’ Daily Mail

‘Rarely have I enjoyed a book as much as Dava Sobel's “Longitude”. She has an extraordinary gift of making difficult ideas clear.’ Daily Telegraph

‘This brief history of time is a fine tribute to a man who changed the world.’ Irish Times

‘Dava Sobel has written a gem of a book … one of the best reads for the non-scientific to come along for many a moon.’ Financial Times

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Once on a Wednesday excursion when I was a little girl, my father bought me a beaded wire ball that I loved. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Mar. 1999
Format: Paperback
While Longitude is, on the surface of it, a book about scientific endeavour, its appeal is due to the story of a man's struggle against the prevailing thought of the time and the board set up to judge the award for the discovery of a method of determining longitude which was full of people with vested interests. The determination and drive of Harrison is awesome; if it was a novel you would find it difficult to believe. This is arguably the one book that has driven the much quoted trend towards science based books. While the media asks if this signals renewed interest in things scientific, the real answer is more likely that stories such as this are successful because they are about real people with real obstacles to overcome. Well worth a read; it won't take you long!
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60 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Budge Burgess on 10 Oct. 2005
Format: Paperback
Dava Sobel's description of the search for an accurate means to measure longitude was a surprise best seller when first published. This latest, celebratory edition is prefaced by an introduction by Neil Armstrong. Does it add to the package?
Sobel took what was once an intractable problem - finding a means to work out precisely where you are - and turned it into a very readable account, making the history and science readily accessible to a popular readership. Working out latitude is not particularly difficult - the equator is a fixed point and observation of sun, stars, and length of day make it relatively easy to determine how far north or south you are.
But longitude? Because the earth spins (more or less) on a north/south axis, the two poles act as fixed points in space. There are no such fixed points on the equator - every point on the equator undergoes a complete revolution every twenty four hours. Longitude has always been problematic, and for the seafarer, that problem could easily prove fatal.
The solution came in the creation of clocks which would keep good enough time at sea, and the man responsible for their invention, Harrison, emerges from Sobel's book as a determined, driven man.
It's a fascinating little book, written in a highly accessible style. It's quite a quick read. It's a highly enjoyable read. It's also a stimulating read, and must have encouraged a few people to delve further into history and science.
But does it deserve a new edition? Well, the cachet of Armstrong's introduction is a reminder that long distance sea travel was once as dangerous as current space travel. It's unnecessary. Sobel's story is exciting enough, and will absorb you with or without an introduction. It remains an excellent little volume and a worthy publishing success - maybe it's time you read it again!
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By joalem on 8 Nov. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just to prove that the most wonderful stories can be produced from true life, this science book for the layman tells the irresistable tale of John Harrison, winner of the English Parliament's prize for the determination of longitude in 1770.
This is a tiny book in the paperback version, and makes for a rapid but extremely satisfying read. Political intrigue, fascinating science and excellent incidental anecdotes abound. (My favourite occurs right at the beginning - the tale of a haughty admiral who has an uppity sailor hanged for daring to question his navigation, and who receives his comeuppance in the most deliciously ironic way.... and it's all true!)
Most of all, it brings into focus the concept of a "life's work" - John Harrison's dogged faithfulness to producing the world's most accurate chronograph in a practical, portable package. The sheer thought of spending 19 years perfecting just one variation of it is inconceivable; that he spent over 40 years refining his concept to the eventual prizewinning piece just boggles the mind.
This is a delightful read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Jan. 1999
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed Longitude, but it would be better with even a few diagrams to explain some of the details of Harrison's clock making breakthroughs. I couldn't form a picture just from reading the text how his gridiron pendulum allowed for temperature changes, but I'm sure it could have been explained quite easily with a diagram and a reference to basic physics. The recent Horizon programme on the BBC made exactly the same mistake. Without more explanantion we are really being asked to take the author's word for it about how clever Harrison's clocks were. It's a good story though. One thing I'm still not sure about is how do you measure local noon on board ship any more accurately than you measure the moon's position. With a few more explanations this book could have been excellent.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Jan. 2000
Format: Paperback
I share others reviewers' need for more detail about some of the technical points covered by Dava Sobel. The book is really too short but it was based on an article for the Harvard Review so that is understandable. It is a good overview but I would have liked both more personal detail of Harrison's family, and the personal effect on them of his titanic struggle, and more information about the context of his technical advances. The book is readable but ultimately frustrating; not detailed enough; and short on the personalities and characters of the protagonists, the various Astronomers Royal, naval officers and Harrison's horological contemporaries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. R. Albert on 24 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Longitude: Special Anniversary Edition (Publisher: Fourth Estate; edition 27 Feb 2014) is not as it seems. Hard cover but pulp paper (low quality). Bad printing. The cover is nice to see but be aware: the material is carboard and not fabric (as it seems in the photo). I don't really know why is a "Special" edition. I give three stars to the edition not to the book itself; I apologize for that but Amazon doesn't have a review form only for that (it would be a good idea though)The Longitude: Special Anniversary Edition (Publisher: Fourth Estate; edition 27 Feb 2014) is not as it seems. Hard cover but pulp paper (low quality). Bad printing. The cover is nice to see but be aware: the material is carboard and not fabric (as it seems in the photo). I don't really know why is a special edition. I give three stars to the edition not to the book itself. I apologize for that but Amazon doesn't have a review form only for that (it would be a good idea though)
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