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Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time Paperback – October 30, 2007
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“This is a gem of a book.” ―Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times
“A simple tale, brilliantly told.” ―Washington Post Book World
“As much a tale of intrigue as it is of science…A book full of gems for anyone interested in history, geography, astronomy, navigation, clockmaking, and--not the least--plain old human ambition and greed.” ―Philadelphia Inquirer
“Only someone with Dava Sobel's unusual background in both astronomy and psychology could have written it. Longitude is a wonderful story, wonderfully told.” ―Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses
“The marine chronometer is a glorious and fascinating object, but it is not a simple one, and its explanation calls for a writer as skilled with words as the watchmakers were with their tools; happily such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel.” ―Patrick O'Brian, author of The Commodore and the Aubrey/Maturin series
About the Author
Dava Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, and The Planets, coauthor of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.
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Sorbel writes enthusiastically and holds attention without including extraneous detail which might bog down the reading, and after reading Longitude the second time- now I want to go back to the observatory and also to the clock museum in Guildhall, which I did not see.
The science of positioning on the Earth is fascinating and anyone who finds global positioning and astronomy intriguing should read this book
Do not expect detailed explanations of geography, oceanography, astronomy, horology, or the like. In fact, you probably won't understand any of the scientific concepts mentioned in this book any better after completion.
But I'm still giving it five stars. It's a brief, easy read and I love history. Just be aware of what you're getting into.
Having said that, I do think what I wrote is likely good enough for a customer review on Amazon. :) Hopefully you find it helpful.
The Illustrated Longitude by Dava Sorbel and William Andrews is a detailed book about the development of navigation through the discovery of calculating longitude. It was first published in 1998 by Walker Publishing Company, Inc, based in New York and sells for $32.95 in the United States. This book might be considered a second edition, even though it isn't labeled as such, because the first time it was published it apparently lacked the graphs, maps, charts, etc. that are found in abundance in this edition.
Miss Sorbel and Mr. Andrews set out to describe to a presumably collegiate audience how the concept of longitude was developed and how one man, John Harrison, dared to defy the scientifically biased leaders and upper societal echelon of his day by developing a method of calculating longitude based on the mechanics of a watch rather than the passage of the night sky over the horizon. And that purpose is fulfilled in this 216-page text by colorful and captivating language, intriguing ideas, and a plethora of maps, charts, graphs, and pictures. Nearly every page has some sort of illustration on it, which enhances the reading and understanding of the point the authors are trying to make. The illustrations make it relatively easy to get into the mindset of the time.
Miss Sorbel did include an appropriate amount of information for college-level study. She not only has good organizational skills, which she displayed by talking about subjects in chronological order as well as categorizing topics, but she did put that extra effort in to include as much detail about the history as she could.
Her bibliography is as detailed as the text of the book itself and gives her work credibility. Looking at her bibliography, one can see that she uses contemporary sources as recent as 1996, as well as sources dating back to 1808. Using the newer sources shows that she is building upon the research and ideas of modern knowledge and thinkers; using the older sources gives her information, which is from a closer time period and mindset to when the events described actually took place, more authenticity.
It is also refreshing to see her extensive use of maps, charts, graphs, etc. As was mentioned before, they are placed on nearly every page and they absolutely enhance the comprehensibility of the material. Without those images the things being described, whether they be maps or charts, astrolabes or compasses, time pieces or just a portrait of an individual being discussed would be nothing more than an abstract idea with nothing concrete to attach that idea to.
Without a doubt, Dava Sorbel and William Andrews created a text worth reading. The Illustrated Longitude is full to the brim with interesting facts and an amazing history on a topic that many might not even realize is interesting until reading this book. But, with a colorful use of the English language, a detailed inclusion of historical data and a topic that inspires the imagination, this text is more than interesting. And, at only $32.95 it is less expensive, by as much as ten times, than the standard college text book.
This was historical narrative nearly at its best, set in England in the 18th Century, from about 1714 to 1775, roughly, at the time of King George, when Britain sailed the seas, colonizing the world.
Factual and emotionally gripping. At times laugh-out-loud funny, at other times a tear jerker. Sobel inspired in me a wrathful indignation for several injustices.
Sometimes a bit plodding and pedestrian.
We learn what ensues after the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act, offering a grand reward of 20,000 pounds (a vast amount back then) for the first person to figure out how to reliably measure longitude. This was necessary to avoid wrecking against unexpected rocks, shoals, and even shorelines--something the British navy experienced to great devastation.
It's the story of the race to win and the treachery along the way. Along with the straight facts, there is drama: greed, ambition, craftsmanship, filial love, scientific elitism, aristocratic cronyism, triumph, despair, etc.
Sobel provides a good illustration of the problem itself (why it was so easy to lose track of longitude, sail off course, and come aground) and the various attempts to accurately measure or "find" longitude.
The ending was a bit long-drawn-out, but other than that, a quick read.
Someone said it reads like a textbook. I disagree, except in some spots.
There is a movie by the same name, I think.