Longitude: Special Anniversary Edition Hardcover – 27 Feb 2014
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The thorniest scientific problem of the eighteenth 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. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
‘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 TimesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.
Sobel presents her material logically and lucidly. She is a good prose stylist and is obviously an accomplished reporter. This book, however, feels like what it is: a series of articles stretched out a little to accommodate a best-seller format. The story is an intriguing one. An 18th century inventor rises from obscurity and against great odds and bias, produces an instrument that will prove of enormous benefit to his country and to humankind.
Just don't go into the reading of this book expecting great historical writing. Sobel acknowledges in a postscript that she doesn't include footnotes "because this book is intended as a popular account, not a scholarly study...". She has culled her research, for the most part, from interviewing historians, attending a seminar, and visiting various sites in England. At least she is forthright about her methodology, so she won't have to face the gauntlet that Kearns-Goodwin and Ambrose have recently had to run (mixed metaphor?).
Another minor irritation arises from the fact that one of the prominent blurbs one finds when opening the book comes from Diane Ackerman, whom Sobel later identifies in her list of acknowledgments as her "dear friend." Again, at least she's being transparent about it, but it still strikes me as a bit disingenuous.
To her credit, Sobel does include a rather comprehensive bibliography, so those who want to further investigate Harrison's achievement are well guided.
Longitude is a good, quick summer read. For those who want some pith with their punch, however, I would recommend the A&E Sturridge video or CD adapted from this work.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fascinating read about little known inventor. Really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in how things came about.Published 4 months ago by GSC
Excellent subject, reader good clearly and concisely read through outPublished 5 months ago by Alan Borrell
An interesting account of the solution to a long-standing problem.Published 6 months ago by iolanthe
brilliant book. amazing story too. I really want to go to Greenwich to see the Harrison clocks now!Published 6 months ago by pete mackley
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