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You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves [Kindle Edition]

Hiawatha Bray
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The story of the rise of modern navigation technology, from radio location to GPS—and the consequent decline of privacy

What does it mean to never get lost? You Are Here examines the rise of our technologically aided era of navigational omniscience—or how we came to know exactly where we are at all times. In a sweeping history of the development of location technology in the past century, Bray shows how radio signals created to carry telegraph messages were transformed into invisible beacons to guide ships and how a set of rapidly-spinning wheels steered submarines beneath the polar icecap. But while most of these technologies were developed for and by the military, they are now ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Our phones are now smart enough to pinpoint our presence to within a few feet—and nosy enough to share that information with governments and corporations. Filled with tales of scientists and astronauts, inventors and entrepreneurs, You Are Here tells the story of how humankind ingeniously solved one of its oldest and toughest problems—only to herald a new era in which it’s impossible to hide.

Editorial Reviews


“A superlative choice for technology buffs who want a historical perspective on location and navigation technologies.”
Library Journal

“[A] breezy history of our ever-dwindling ability to lose our way.”
Wall Street Journal

“Bray provides an entertaining account of how our ancestors learned to find their way around their neighborhood, then around a larger area, then around the world.”
Roanoke Times

“Bright, well-written and highly informative.”

“This book is a fascinating journey through the development of modern navigational systems and the brilliant foresight of the inventors. Definitely an entertaining read.”
—John Huth, author of The Lost Art of Finding Our Way

You Are Here is a wonderful book, with lots of engaging stories about the engineers and engineering that have brought us the magical navigational gadgets that keep us on track. Ironically, this excellently written book is one to get lost in.”
—Henry Petroski, author of The Essential Engineer and The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors

“Hiawatha Bray’s thrill ride through the world of GIS, Google Earth, and location tracking helps us understand how the e-maps that shoved aside the familiar paper map are both a convenience and a threat.”
—Mark Monmonier, author of How to Lie with Maps

“From Foucault to Foursquare, the history of location technology is one of graft, ingenuity and, ultimately, shopping. Hiawatha Bray maps out the journey with clarity and wit, and ends with a warning: now we know where we are, do we really want to be here? A timely, searching book if ever there was.”
—Simon Garfield, author of On the Map

About the Author

Hiawatha Bray is a technology reporter for the Boston Globe, where he has been on staff since 1995. He has also written for Wired, Black Enterprise, Fast Company and Christianity Today. Bray lives in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • File Size: 713 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00I80OI2K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,395 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here is a great book April 2, 2014
By Steve G
Format:Kindle Edition
I was expecting an apocalyptic view of the loss of privacy through the use of locating services (with or without our knowledge). Instead I read a very objective and interesting book about history, politics, science, business and map-making. And yes, author Hiawatha Bray does discuss our loss of privacy but in an honest not alarmist way. The book is well-written and is accessible to the general public; no science knowledge is required. Bray doesn’t get bogged down in techno-babble and explains everything well. I recommend this book for anyone interested in geography or history of science or anyone who casually keeps location services on their phone or tablet on all the time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
Writing an engaging an interesting book on a technical subject poses a significant challenge. Dive too deeply into the technical minutiae and you risk boring non-technical readers. Skim too superficially and you fail to do the subject justice. In his new book, You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves, author Hiawatha Bray navigates a middle course. The result is a book that will enlighten the most technical reader while entertaining and informing anyone seeking to learn more about the technology by which we find ourselves and our way.

Bray's ambitious book presents the history of navigation and location technology from ancient days to modern times. His first chapter traces navigation and cartography from Polynesian shell maps through the discovery of the compass, and the astronomical and horological discoveries that enabled accurate navigation by 1800. His second chapter discusses radio based navigation. Since I've written papers on the history of RF-based navigation, I was particularly interested in this chapter. Bray hit all the essential points and even added details new to me, such as the performance and behavior of John Stone Stone's early direction-finding antenna array, and how the need for reliable aerial navigation to support the growing demand for air mail spurred RF-navigation technology.

Chapter Three describes the development of gyroscopic and inertial navigation. In his fourth and fifth chapters, Bray presents the origins of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Bray notes a remarkably prescient 1869 suggestion from Edward Everett Hale for a satellite based navigation system.

Chapter Six presents the story of how Skyhook Wireless pioneered WiFi based navigation.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm here - do you care April 13, 2014
Where shall I start? Pun intended. While this is a review of the development of location finding devices, it is also an examination of what that means to us. I haven't decided how I feel about it, but having read this book I have the tools to consider. The stories the author tells are interesting and bring out the problem and how important the solution was. I required reading book for the modern technocrat.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Globally Pertinent and Satisfying. April 17, 2014
This is a nice and well written book about the history and present (up to 2013 ) state of localisation science. A chapter is dedicated to each theme : It begins with the longitude and latitude problems, radio positioning, inertial positioning, use of satellites, and the progresses on mapping. Each chapter clearly exposes the difficulties facing people at a given period of history and various developments which led to their solutions. The last(long) chapter is devoted to the present threat to privacy due to the progresses in geolocalisation.

The ordering of the chapters transform the books into a nice, easy read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book July 11, 2014
You are Here by Hiawatha Gray ... Here's a fascinating book for you technology people, especially if you're interested in maps. (That would be me!) Radio beacons, gyroscopes, inertial navigation. It's all in there. Today's technology is fascinating, too. Did you know that your phone has four ways to figure out your location? Wi-Fi (there's a database of where each wireless router is located), cell phone tower triangulation, GPS, and (this one is a surprise to me) GLONASS. That's the Russian equivalent of GPS.

I enjoyed the book, it's easy to read, and there's a lot to learn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You Arw Here needs internal navigation June 9, 2014
By Vance
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book has a lot of very good information in it, but the chapters have few or no breaks in the text. A book like this, being rather dense, should have section breaks to break up the wall of text and to provide a convenient place to stop reading, put the bookmark in, and turn out the light.

In a book dedicated to the human search for navigation, there are almost no visual clues in the text for where you stopped reading and where to begin again. This makes the book a struggle to read, when the exact opposite should be the case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps I expected too much. June 8, 2014
This is basically a social and political history with almost no technical content. How can one describe the history of an extremely technical discipline without trying to explain in layman's terms how the major methods worked? I expected some technical details in layman's terms, with appropriate diagrams, explaining the science as well as the history behind finding your position. This book was very disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I found this to be a well-written, detailed look at communication/location technology. Not a quick read at all, because this gem contains lots of very interesting history and technology. The author has clearly researched a LOT about this subject--especially the long history of trying to get accurate positional information based on satellites.

And yes, it's true! According to the author, Stephen Poizner "perfected phone-based GPS technology."

♦ The "Found in Space" chapter, with history of location technology, such as Ivan Getting of WWII fame.
♦ History of satellite launches, such as the TIMATION series of the 1960's.
♦ Discussion on how navigation satellites have to incorporate relativistic equation adjustments.
♦ Explanation of the deliberate error-introducing scheme, called "Selective Availability." I had heard of this, but didn't really know much about it. I had no idea it was canceled by the Clinton administration in 1996.

Appears to be perfect. Someone has spent a lot of time getting this right!

Well laid-out book. Very professional, with detailed end Notes and Index.

Would have liked to see a discussion of "Geocaching." Didn't see anything on it. A word search did not turn up even one hit on "geocache."

√ All in all, a well-written and informative book. Recommend!

♫ A Review by Chris Lawson

[Note: I do not know the author of this book, and no one requested I write this review.]
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book
Published 2 months ago by Russell Haggerty
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book!
Published 4 months ago by Stitches and Stories
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative book, but author wanders in most chapters
I learned quite a bit from this book and don't fault anyone for rating it 4 or 5 stars. My only complaint was that the author took quiet a few detours in each chapter that appeared... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Andrew
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book that traces the history of technology from the ...
Interesting book that traces the history of technology from the magnetic compass and "dead reckoning" to contemporary cell phones that allow the user to pinpoint his... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Poppiexno
5.0 out of 5 stars Great History
Wonderful Book! Anyone with a smartphone needs to read this!
Published 8 months ago by Brigan
5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly perfect.
It has been years since I have enjoyed every minute of a read so much. Especially non-fiction. @AndyNakrin: .@watha I love technology. I love history. I worry about privacy. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Andrew Nakrin
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written coverage of a complex topic without getting lost in the...
I'm a geospatial professional so this book was bought more for professional than pleasure reading. However, it ended up satisfying both. Read more
Published 9 months ago by David Swann
2.0 out of 5 stars Something is missing . . .
This book would benefit from images, e.g. early maps, graphical explanation of celestial navigation, etc., rather than being nothing but text.
Published 9 months ago by william p arnold III
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Pretty interesting reading. Quite complete.
Published 10 months ago by Stephen Crow
5.0 out of 5 stars This helpful book addressed the topics of how humans discovered...
You Are Here - Hiawatha Bray [550 2014-07-01]

This helpful book addressed the topics of how humans discovered precisely where we are on the earth's surface and how... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Paul Brooks
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More About the Author

I've been a reporter and columnist at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades, and scored an Overseas Press Club award for my writing about the Internet in Africa. I spend nearly all my time rebooting, recharging and rewriting, except when I'm reading books or acting as an assistant to my fashion-photographer wife. The great ongoing adventure of my life is an effort to adopt three children from the Democratic Republic of Congo--relatives of my wife, who's from Kinshasa. It's a tough town, but surprisingly well-mapped. During a visit there last summer, my smartphone unerringly guided me wherever I wanted to go. My wonder at this amazing ability to find one's way, anywhere on earth, is what led me to write this book.


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