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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
7,640158821 (3.87)272
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 byrclucas10, private library, laurlaurlaur, Arbutus967, Smsw, glhs, cntom60
  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 272 mentions

English (147)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (157)
Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)
Learned about this whacky invention called the Celatone, on my second read through: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celatone ( )
  jzacsh | Sep 9, 2020 |
A gem of a book that tells the story of an eighteenth-century former carpenter, John Harrison, who made the world's most accurate clock in an effort to win a huge-money scientific prize for cracking the longitude problem (so that sea captains could know their exact locations and avoid wrecking their ships).

This small book is beautifully written. My early edition is a small hardback which feels nice in the hand. I've also had a later edition paperback which was wonderful for a different reason; an extensive and fabulous foreword by Neil Armstrong of lunar fame. Armstrong puts Harrison's achievement in context, from the townhall clock of his own boyhood regulating civic life, to the precision timing needed for successful space voyages. The astronaut actually visited the Greenwich Observatory in London to see Harrison's four ground-breaking timepieces, some of them the size of a dining room chair.

Dava Sobel brings a story of unremitting diligence and technical creativity to life in an excellent compact biography. ( )
  Melthemadrilenian | Aug 30, 2020 |
The author beautifully depicts a great problem of the time - the insane difficulty of finding longitude accurately. John Harrison comes out as a genius and hero. I hope to visit his creations in England someday. ( )
  bsmashers | Aug 1, 2020 |
Clever tinkerer
devoted his life to time
promptly forgotten. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
Finding the latitude in the 17th century was straightforward, but finding the longitude was extremely difficult. This compromised the safety of all seafarers, and in one particular incident around 200 lives were lost of the Isles of Scilly.

The admiralty of the day decided to set up a Longitude board and offer a prize to the inventor of a method to reliably calculate the longitude of a vessel. Various methods were tried, including one that took lunar sightings developed by Nevil Maskelyne.

Enter John Harrison. He taught himself to read and write, and was a proficient musician, his real talent was clocks. His first wooden pendulum clock is still in existence, held at The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. And it was this talent that he put to good use to start to develop the devices that would enable the navy to know their exact longitude.

His first attempt at a device was called H-1 and has lots of new technologies including frictionless bearings, the gridiron pendulum and the grasshopper escapment. This clock lost a second a month compared to the best clocks of the day that would loose 1 minute a day. The clock is still working.

He presented the drawings to the Longitude board, and they gave permission to make one. The clock passed the tests, but as it improved the board decided to amend the original tests make them tougher. Harrison went on to develop 4 versions to meet these changing requirements, culminating in a 5 inch diameter watch that did the same as the H-1.

By this time Nevil Maskelyne was head of the Longitude board. He made it extremely difficult for Harrison as he wanted his preferred lunar method to win. Harrison complied with the demanding requirements, and surrendered his clocks to the board. It was only with the kings intervention that the reward was finally given to Harrison.

Sobel has written quite a dry account of this tale of engineering excellence and political manipulation. Whilst it get all the facts across, it doesn't convey the emotions of the men involved. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 147 (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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(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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