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Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Timeby Dava Sobel
"An account of the man who developed the technology which allowed sailors to determine their longitude at sea. If you don't know where you are, it's hard to know where you're going, whether you've gotten there or if you've missed your target. If, while sailing around the Pacific Ocean, you need to navigate toward some small island to find food and water, grievous things can happen if you're wrong. And grievous things did happen.
Dava Sobel's book is an account of John Harrison, who spent his life (in the eighteenth century) perfecting a timepiece which was accurate to seconds in various climatic conditions — moisture, barometric pressure, etc. — all of which prior to that time had imposed serious technical limitations. You couldn't put a clock on a ship in those days because the ship pitched so much it would throw off the mechanism or destroy it entirely. You needed, basically, the perfect pocket watch, which Harrison invented. It was a thing of beauty as well as a huge leap forward technologically. The famous minds of that generation all thought the answer to determining longitude would be found in the stars, by using the sky as a map. Harrison believed the answer would be mechanical, and to find it he had to solve metallurgical problems as well as miniaturization problems, all of which he did in a small workshop in a remote part of England, competing for a prize from the King when the odds were stacked heavily against him."
Synopses & Reviews
On its 10th anniversary, a gift edition of this classic book, with a forward by one of history's greatest explorers, and eight pages of color illustrations.
Anyone alive in the eighteeth century would have known that "the logitude 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 Issac 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 percise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison's 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.
Book News Annotation:
This smart little (5x7.5") book contains the engrossing story of John Harrison's (1693-1776) 40-year obsession with the "the longitude problem" which resulted in what is known today as the chronometer, a tool that finally made accurate ocean navigation possible. The tenth anniversary re-issue includes an eight-page color insert with images of Harrison's inventions (for those who have not yet made it to the Old Royal Observatory to see them in person). Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Dava Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, The Planets, co-author of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.
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