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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time » User review

An epic 40 year struggle!

  • Dec 6, 2010
Dava Sobel, like Simon Winchester or Canada's Pierre Berton, has clearly mastered the art of writing history in a form that is not only informative but, perhaps more important, is also compelling and entertaining.

In eighteenth century Europe, although scientists had long wrestled with the problem, sailors had no method of determining their longitude. The economic losses and the loss of life was so staggering that finding a solution to the problem was elevated to the almost legendary level of finding the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth. In the Longitude Act of 1714, the British Parliament offered a prize of 20,000 pounds (equivalent to several million dollars today) to anyone who found a "practicable and useful" means of determining longitude.

One need look no further than the list of stellar minds that were applied to the problem (and failed to find the solution) - Tycho Brahe, Christian Huygens, Robert Cooke, Edmund Halley, Galileo and Vincenzo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren - to appreciate the almost insurmountable difficulty that this issue presented to the navigators of the day.

"Longitude" presents the story of John Harrison, a self-taught Yorkshire clockmaker, who struggles alone to raise the art of clock making to unheard of levels of accuracy. The story of his ultimately receiving the prize from Britain's Board of Longitude is a dramatic, inspiring and heart-rending portrayal of 40 years of perseverance and struggle against political shenanigans and skullduggery as well as personal feuds, jealousy and outright espionage and sabotage.

From Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell's catastrophic loss of over 2000 lives when his fleet crashed at Land's End in 1707 to the refurbishment of Harrison's prize-winning chronometer for posterity in 1833, Dava Sobel has brought this small but important piece of the 18th century to life in a way that few other writers could manage. Two thumbs up for a thoroughly enjoyable piece of non-fiction writing!

Paul Weiss

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December 06, 2010
I've not read this book but I saw the Itv program starring Jeremy irons and Michael Gambon, based on this book and found it very interesting.
More Longitude: The True Story of a... reviews
review by . October 30, 2007
The last years of the seventeenth century and the first years of the eighteenth century saw the rise of significant global commerce. With few land routes and none capable of handling large amounts of cargo, the only option for shipping was via the oceans. As long as the ships stayed within sight of land, they generally knew where they were. However, that had its' dangers as it was always possible that a storm would dash the ship onto the land. Furthermore, many of the new voyages required movement …
review by . March 23, 2004
The work describes historical attempts to determine the exact  position of objects at sea. The author describes the solar and  lunar eclipse. Werner used the moon as a location finder.  Galileo designed a navigation helmut-the celatone.  Harrison constructed a table of the sun rising and setting.  Nevil mas Kelyne published a Nautical Almanac which depicted  lunar/solar-stellar distances. This book is perfect for  science buffs …
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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About this book


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.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 0140258795
ISBN-13: 978-0140258790
Author: Dava Sobel
Genre: Professional & Technical
Publisher: Penguin
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