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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
8,091168816 (3.87)293
Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of John Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, HepworthJ, brian.oshea, lcl999, VPManga, ActonKL-Library, LizMo, Faxiangg, sdvorak
  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: The Place Where Days Begin and End 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 293 mentions

English (157)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (167)
Showing 1-5 of 157 (next | show all)
amazing work
  Mikenielson | Jul 6, 2021 |
I cannot know how accurate this book is, nor do I care too much. I enjoyed reading this book. It was a quick and easy read, and my interest was held the entire length of it. I felt like I learned much that I hitherto had not known and that is good enough for me. I have read that there are more exhaustive and accurate books, but do not care to look them up and read them. I recommend this book to any and all. ( )
  WadeBurgess | May 22, 2021 |
I take it all back! All the nasty stuff I've said about Columbus! I now understand that it is amazing that any naval captain ever got anywhere close to where he wanted to go. Now, the fact that Columbus thought he had found North America when he landed in Central America, or thought he had found an island when he actually had found North America....and who knows where he thought he was when he washed up on the islands... well Sobel has convinced me that he really had found "something."

This is the story of the intrigue and far from fair-play that the Longitude commission indulged in, rather highlighting the later United Kingdom's general attitude toward their colonial conquests in Africa, the Middle East, India, and yes, the Americas. Play by Marquess of Queensberry rules they didn't. Partially it was ignorance of what Harrison''s watch could actually do, but part of it was really the evil machinations orchestrated by Nevil Maskelyne.

Definitely a short book worth the time to read! ( )
  kaulsu | May 21, 2021 |
Quick, focused history books are underrated, especially when they're as well-written as this one. The subtitle of "The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time" sounds hyperbolic, but it's basically true. Sobel's account of how unknown English clockmaker John Harrison solved the longitude problem - how can sailors tell their position at sea in a quick, accurate, and reliable way in order to avoid sinking or mistaking Caribbean islands for India? - takes an underappreciated scientific issue and explains why it's important, why it was so difficult to solve, who the key players were, and why it matters today. While she doesn't wander down every single potential historical avenue or wring all of the scientific/military/political contextual details out, she's able to give the reader plenty of background for further digging, in case you want more details on the vagaries of star-sighting or constructing astronomical tables, the rivalry between Britain and France, or why exactly Nevil Maskelyne was such a jerk to his fellow astronomers and scientists.

Plus as a bonus it gives you more to ponder on how best to systematically promote scientific research: the debate over the prize system vs investing more in public universities vs offering R&D tax credits to private companies can seem arcane, but the specific example of a life-and-death situation like the longitude problem makes the tradeoffs of each unusually clear. Scientific research offers a great window into society's priorities, and Sobel's book is an excellent look at an often-overlooked example of progress at its most unexpected. Few of us mostly land-locked folks will ever need to determine the nearest meridian line from a ship at sea in a storm, but it's always worth remembering how we've benefitted from humble experimenters like Harrison, and thinking of ways to encourage his spiritual successors. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
A popular and intriguing account about the solution to longitude and the development of the maritime watch.

Dava Sobel makes interesting reading of the story of Harrison and his clock. The book outlines the technical challenges ships had to overcome in order to safely sail the oceans, the different solutions proposed and how the clock won. ( )
  Aetherson | Apr 26, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 157 (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, DavaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armstrong, NeilForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dilla Martínez, XavierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reading, KateNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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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Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of John Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.

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Book description
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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