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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, William J. H. Andrewes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,022147830 (3.87)260
  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 260 mentions

English (136)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (146)
Showing 1-5 of 136 (next | show all)
This is a fairly short (175 pages of text in trade paperback size) nonfiction account of the attempts to find a way to determine longitude at sea. It is primarily about John Harrison, inventor of the chronometer. There are no footnotes (intentionally by the author), but there is a two-page bibliography and four-page index. ( )
  riofriotex | Feb 24, 2019 |
Rhetorical armaments fully deployed in this little gem. It’s like a cameo with it’s fine detail in a tiny space. Remarkable really how Sobel has managed to do that with a subject where each page could be expanded into its own book. A very enjoyable introduction to the subject. ( )
  Lukerik | Jan 8, 2019 |
A very enjoyable story about a rogue clock-maker who solved the longitude problem and made ocean going ships destination more accurate.

I read this over a few months over break at work (its a short book). Its well written, with an interesting cast of characters, and has a well described history of longitude.

Essentially, the problem is that while its easy enough to figure out what latitude you are on (this can be figured from the stars), but longitude is a completely different story. Wrong guesses have doomed entire ships. Many people worked on it, and while using time was always a possibility, it wouldn't work without a very accurate clock. So people went to the stars, and the moons on Jupiter, or even blowing off canons to indicate where the port was. But it wasn't until John Harrison, a rogue clock-maker, made his first clock (H-1) for navigation, that this problem was solved.

Dava Sobel is so good at writing books about scientific discovery - she manages to write a good story while keeping to the facts. This book is no different - the people involved come to life, from John Harrison, wary to give up his secrets, to the board who kept changing the rules of the longitude test because they didn't like an outsider winning the prize. Its also a short novel, and can be read in a few days. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Oct 27, 2018 |
This book tells the story of John Harrison—not the mysterious character played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness, but the self-taught clockmaker who devised a chronometer that would allow mariners to determine their longitude while at sea. The book explains how the problem of longitude arose, the two camps for possible solutions (mechanical vs astronomical, that is using lunar distances to calculate longitude), and the mechanics of the timepieces that Harrison built.

It is a well-told, highly interesting story and very much recommended if you like stories about the early days of science, about exploration and navigation, or about more out-of-the-way parts of history. I’d also recommend this in conjunction with Timekeepers, by Simon Garfield, which talks about the history of telling time in general and is similarly nerdy about the details of clocks and watches. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Sep 1, 2018 |
Picked this up thinking, "I dare you to make this interesting." She won. ( )
  Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 136 (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
Andrewes, William J. H.main 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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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 11 descriptions

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