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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
6,137125667 (3.86)200
  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...
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    Genesis to Jupiter by Peter Mason (KayCliff)
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    Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt (John_Vaughan)

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English (116)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (124)
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
subtitled *The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time*

Although this book was only 175 pages long, it took me longer than I expected it to, to get through it. This is probably due to the fact that there was much more *math* and mathematical detail than my non-math brain could process and rather than just skim and skip, I tried to get through it all. The story itself, of John Harrison and his valiant attempts at inventing an instrument that would accurately determine longitude, the most pressing scientific challenge of his time, was fascinating. He was treated so badly by the organization which sponsored the competition to award the inventor; it was truly shameful. I guess this aspect of human nature hasn't changed much over time.

There are 2 quotes, one from the beginning of the book, and one from the very end, that I liked:

"...Time is to clock as mind is to brain.. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch...when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. The most we can hope a watch to do is to mark that progress. And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don't really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they're able."

"With is marine clocks, John Harrison tested the waters of space-time. He succeeded, against all odds, in using the fourth - temporal - dimension to link points on the three-dimensional globe. He wrested the world's whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch."

Sobel is a good storyteller. Her description, at the beginning of the final chapter, of standing on the prime meridian of the world and how it is lit up these days in Greenwich, at the Old Royal Observatory, makes me want to see it for myself. ( )
  jessibud2 | Aug 16, 2016 |
This is the story of the development of a clock accurate enough to measure longitude while at sea. As someone who was almost completely ignorant of pre-GPS maritime navigation techniques, this was fascinating to me. I'd never given much thought to how one finds their location on the ocean where there are no landmarks save the heavens. The descriptions of the clocks were marvelous; now I want to run off to Greenwich to see them. Though maritime adventure stories don't interest me, the history of maritime technology certainly does. The difficulties faced at sea are so different from those on land, and the ingenious methods of overcoming them make for good reading.

A note on the audio: Kate Reading is not my favorite narrator. Her stilted cadence has ruined more than one audiobook for me, to the point where I avoid listening to books she reads. However, I decided to give this nonfiction a chance, and it wasn't too bad. I think a lot of the problem in other books is her atrocious attempt at an American accent. Using her natural British accent here, it sounded much more natural. It also helped that there wasn't much in the way of dialogue. ( )
  melydia | Jul 29, 2016 |
Sobel has told a complex story very clearly, staying with the toplc closely and without straying into related events and issues - although she does include many fascinating snippets from history. It is focused on the central character of John Harrison and his achievement of inventing a chronometer that would determine longitude. Her admiration is clear. I pitied Harrison, who spent his life on the job yet parliamentarians were reluctant to award the £20,000 Longitude prize. Thanks to Sobel's writing ability, this short book is a wonderful story, skillfully told. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Jul 2, 2016 |
I found the story boring and tedious. The book is about the history of the development of methods for measuring longitude. The author did not provide sufficient information on the way in which the timepieces were to be used to measure longitudes. The book was heavy on history and weak on science. I would have been more interested in the details of how the clock mechanisms functioned and less on the rivalries of the inventors. There was some information provided that was interesting but it was bogged down by trivial facts. I recommend the book to an insomniac. ( )
  GlennBell | Jun 22, 2016 |
I dunno. I feel like I was missing something. It felt geeky, but it didn't help me feel like I really learned anything. It's short, but it took me a long time to read. Maybe better editing would have helped Sobol focus on what to explain more carefully, and what to discuss concisely.

I did like this quote: Timepieces don't really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they're able."

And I did like the point about the moon's movement. The thing is, I've been feeling a sense of unease that I have no idea where in the sky the moon is going to be any random night, or which way the horns of crescent point, etc. The phases are regular, and of course the sun is regular, but "The moon's orbital motion varies cyclically, over an eighteen-year period, [so] eighteen years' worth of data constitute the bare minimum groundwork for any meaningful predictions of the moon's position." Ok, now I don't feel so ignorant.

Still, I can't recommend the book. This review, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/42046691, says it best, imo.

ETA - I just found the illustrated edition at my library. I wish I'd chosen that instead, and I suspect it's worth at least one more star. Review to come on: [b:The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time|4805|The Illustrated Longitude The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time|Dava Sobel|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312053891s/4805.jpg|1755348]" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 116 (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.
Here's a swell little book that tells an amazing story that is largely forgotten today but that deserves to be remembered.

It is the story of the problem of navigation at sea--which plagued ocean-going mariners for centuries--and how it was finally solved.

It is the story of how an unknown, uneducated and unheralded clockmaker solved the problem that had stumped some of the greatest scientific minds. And it is the story of how the Establishment of the 18th Century tried to block his solution.

The essential problem is this: In the middle of the ocean, how can you tell where you are? That is, how can you tell how far east or west of your starting point you have gone?

» 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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