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Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius…

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest… (1995)

by Dava Sobel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,997118696 (3.87)183
  1. 40
    The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (Laura400)
  2. 10
    The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story by Gavin Weightman (harmen)
  3. 32
    The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco (polutropon)
    polutropon: Eco's book is a magical realist novel set in the Age of Exploration, in which the quest to reliably determine longitude at sea plays a pivotal role.
  4. 00
    A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse by Theresa Levitt (ALinNY458)
    ALinNY458: A Short Brief Flash is a high readable book that I thought had some parallels to the story told in Dava Sobel's fine book.
  5. 00
    Greenwich by Charles Jennings (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: An account of the invention of true chronometer and definition of Longitude.
  6. 00
    Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos by Alan W. Hirshfeld (LouRead)
    LouRead: Another dramatic story of the discovery of a scientific truth, told with flair. You won't want to put it down...
  7. 00
    Genesis to Jupiter by Peter Mason (KayCliff)
  8. 01
    Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt (John_Vaughan)

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» See also 183 mentions

English (110)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
The author tells about the search for a method to determine longitude, badly needed to safely navigate oceans. It aptly explains the two methods (by celestial bodies or by a ship-borne clock) that were developed, their advantages and disadvantages, and the inventions necessitated by each.

The author mentions in their Acknowledgments that this book was expanded from a magazine article. Unfortunately, the book seemed overly long, and perhaps should have remained as a magazine article. ( )
  NLytle | May 10, 2016 |
Think you don't care about longitude? This book teaches you that you do care. Very interesting story about the science that opened the world to discovery. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
Another book length magazine article, but one I enjoyed very much. This traces the history of "the longitude problem", the need for sailors to know their location as they traveled across the globe. Calculations could be made using the moon and stars but they weren't accurate and this method was useless under cloudy skies. In 1714 England's Parliament offered a huge prize to anyone who could devise a device to measure longitude. So many useless ideas were proposed that the board managing the reward didn't even meet for 23 years. Then John Harrison, an uneducated clock maker, submitted his invention. Although championed by Edmund Halley and other astronomers and scientists, it took years for him to be recognized.

This book is about that process, which had more twists and turns than you'd imagine, rather than about clock mechanics. I would have enjoyed learning about that but I can see it's outside the scope of this book. One thing I enjoyed was mentions of the longitude problem in popular culture - Gulliver's Travels mentions various impossibilities such as the discovery of perpetual motion and of the longitude, and one of the plates of Hogarth's The Rake's Progress shows a lunatic in an asylum writing a solution to longitude on a wall. ( )
  piemouth | Mar 7, 2016 |
Who would have thought a perfect clock could be made in the mid 1700's? And that it could establish longitude perfectly? And that it took over a century for timepieces to be readily accessible? "Longitude" is a very readable book about a topic most people don't even know exists and it demonstrates once again how good ideas get buried under "established truths". (See "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn.) ( )
  Jeannine504 | Jan 23, 2016 |
This historical account is well written; the reading pace is good and chapters are short enough, together with a narrative that doesn't dwell on irrelevant details. On the other hand, this is not a linear chronology, because it comes back and forth in the different periods of Harrison's life. This is puzzling, at times, but if you bear in mind that this is no longer so much about Harrison's life but about the 5 clocks (H-1 to H-5), then it makes so much more sense to relate to "their" existence, rather than expanding on Harrison's life. It is a good book and, even though I read it many times already, you can't understand the fascination unless you have an interest in clockworks, history and/or engineering. I really understood the appeal of time-keeping devices better after visiting the Museum of Time in Besançon (France). ( )
  soniaandree | Jul 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
Ms. Sobel, a former science reporter for The New York Times, confesses in her source notes that ''for a few months at the outset, I maintained the insane idea that I could write this book without traveling to England and seeing the timekeepers firsthand.'' Eventually she did visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, where the four clocks that James Harrison constructed are exhibited.
She writes, ''Coming face with these machines at last -- after having read countless accounts of their construction and trial, after having seen every detail of their insides and outsides in still and moving pictures -- reduced me to tears.''
Such is the eloquence of this gem of a book that it makes you understand exactly how she felt.

» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sobel, Davaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armstrong, NeilForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dilla Martínez, XavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When I'm playful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales. --Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
For my mother, Betty Gruber Sobel, a four-star navigator who can sail by the heavens but always drives by way of Canarsie.
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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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The history of portable time, or watch, and its important impact on navigating waters. John Harrison’s inventions of timepieces (H-1, H-2, H-3) leading up to the chronometer (H-4) in 1760 and its ability to chart longitude. John Harrison’s difficulties with the Board of Longitude in acknowledging his masterpiece.
GRÁÐUR lengdar er eftir Johan Harrison "sem varði fjörutíu árum í að smíða fullkominn tímamæli (sjóúr) og leysti eitt erfiðasta vandamál siglingafræðinnar á fyrri öldum," segir í kynningu. Sagt er frá hetjudáðum og klækjum, snilld og fáránleika, og mikilvægum þáttum í sögu stjörnufræði, siglingafræði og úrsmíða.
Bókafélagið Ölduslóð gefur bókina út. Elín Guðmundsdóttir íslenskaði. Bókin er 143 bls. Grafík prentaði. Leiðbeinandi verð: 3.280 kr.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140258795, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:49 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

During the great age of exploration, the "longitude problem" was the gravest of scientific challenges. Without the ability to determine longitude, sailors and their ships were lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. In 1714, desperate for a solution, England's Parliament offered 20,000 pounds (the equivalent of millions of dollars today) to anyone who could solve the problem. With all the skill and storytelling ability of a great novelist, Dava Sobel captures the dramatic story at the heart of this epic scientific quest.… (more)

» see all 10 descriptions

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