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The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John…
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The Lost Art of Finding Our Way

by John Edward Huth

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Although this book wasn't what I expected to be, for the most part I found it interesting, if a little more detailed in places than I would have liked. At the beginning, Huth, a Harvard physics professor, talks about how technology has lessened our abilities to navigate by the stars, predict the weather, use compasses, etc. I thought this book would help me learn techniques for finding my way. Huth notes he taught a course on this topic, and gave his students some practical assignments, so I thought, or hoped, some of them would find their way into the book.

Instead, Huth has written a comprehensive book, heavy on the physics (not surprisingly) but with helpful illustrations, that covers everything from ancient navigation techniques to how people get lost to maps and compasses; the stars, the sun, and the moon; latitude and longitude; weather and storms; waves, tides, and currents; and the construction of hulls and sails. As can be seen, the book focuses more on ocean navigation than on finding one's way on land. Throughout, Huth stresses how vital sustained observation and practice are, and how navigators need to cross-check information obtained in different ways, especially if one reading or interpretation is unexpected.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book for me were the discussions of ancient feats of navigation, especially by the Norse and by Pacific Islanders, and also later, not always successful, feats of Arctic exploration. It is a remarkable testament to the human ability to observe, interpret, and remember patterns of stars, waves, weather, etc., that can be put to practical use. Needless to say, this information and practice are also important in military training.

I didn't attempt to study most of the topics in the book, but instead tried to get a flavor of what Huth was talking about; this was especially true for the sections about navigating by the stars, observing the relative height of the sun at noon, and understanding cloud patterns and what they reveal about weather. By the time I got to the last chapters about boat construction, I was skimming. On the other hand, I found the very limited practical information interesting, such as how big an angle of the sky your hand covers when you hold a fist out at the end of an outstretched arm. Of course, I am unlikely to use this information, but if someone were to condense a handbook of do-it-yourself techniques from the mass of physical information in this book, I would buy it.
3 vote rebeccanyc | Jul 22, 2013 |
While there’s much to enjoy in Huth’s anecdotes about Viking voyages, canine trail-marking, the positioning of churches and the development of celestial navigation, his constant (if necessary) use of maps, diagrams, graphs and geometry will challenge some readers. He does, however, write plainly and gracefully (note the understated wordplay of his book’s title).
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674072820, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:26 -0400)

"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."--Book jacket.… (more)

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