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Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation
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Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation

3.47  ·  Rating Details  ·  148 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Compass chronicles the misadventures of those who attempted to perfect the magnetic compass—so precious to sixteenth-century seamen that, by law, any man found tampering with it had his hand pinned to the mast with a dagger. From the time man first took to the seas until only one thousand years ago, sight and winds were the sailor's only navigational aids. It was not until ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published June 1st 2004)
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Apr 28, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It dragged a bit at first with a lot of minuscule details that didn't seem as applicable, but the last third of the book was great making it a solid 3.5 stars. The best lesson from the book is how technology develops and the challenges of personal and political pride vs good science. Unfortunately this is one of many instances where that pride cost a few people their lives with ships that now lie at the bottom of the sea.
Overall a very good and very quick read. Great if stuff like this intrigues
Mar 10, 2015 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compass is a fascinating and comprehensive (albeit Anglo-centric) history on the evolution of the marine compass. The book identifies the key players and the role that politics sometimes played in the improvements and adaptations of the standard compass. It also covers the role that the design of the compass had on naval history and ship-building advancement. The book is peppered with entertaining trivia in the form of anecdotes and influences from and on history of the imperial naval powers of ...more
Jun 15, 2010 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Compass" tells the impressive story of the development of the marine magnetic compass, starting at about 1187 AD and going into modern times. The movement of the ship and the iron used in building the ship, in ship-board weapons, and in items stored on board caused no end of havoc to the magnetic compass' ability to correctly point toward magnetic north. As ship building techniques changed, new ways of correcting for these problems had to be devised. This book described these developments as we ...more
Christopher Mclean
I'm not into navigation or sailing and only picked this up as looked interesting in a holiday home bookshelf but I'm very glad I did. the first two thirds or so is filled with superbly told stories of many notable figures (Halley, Cook, Flinders) who contributed to the evolution of the compass. I couldn't get enough of this. unfortunately I felt the last portion of the book fell off somewhat as it got more into the technical side of how compasses got to where they are today.

overall an excellent
Skuli Saeland
Fróðleg frásögn um mikilvægi áttavitans fyrir siglingar, hve hættulegt var að sigla án hans og hve erfitt var að þróa áttavitann svo hann væri hárréttur. Skekkjur vegna áttavita kostuðu ótal mannslíf og mikil verðmæti. Því var mikið kapp lagt á að þróa þennan siglingabúnað en misvitrir aðilar lögðu hönd á plóginn, sumir þeirra höfðu umfram allt meira egó og sölumennsku en gáfur og ekki hjálpaði t.a.m. skrifræði breska sjóhersins við að taka bætta tækni til notkunar.
Kate  K. F.
I love books that combine history and science especially of objects that have become a huge part of daily life. Compass covered a lot of what I ask for in a book of this type, Gurney's research was good and he followed the various twists and turns of the compass. The writing though was at times a little weak because I would get slightly turned about in terms of what happened first and why something happened. Also I found it disappointing how the story was so focused on the European compass and f ...more
Oct 21, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lively history of the navigator’s basic tool, Compass tells a surprising story, which doubles as a parable about safety in general. In spite of its obvious usefulness, it took centuries for the simple instrument to gain perfection, with government navies the primary drag on accepting innovation. Only a mass tragedy would spur officials to implement obvious improvements in use and construction of the device.

The more things change, the more they remain the same…

On a personal note, sailing offsho
Aug 11, 2011 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought this might be a dry, boring document about the history of the compass. It was not! The book starts out with a true story of a multi-million dollar yacht setting out from the east coast of the US on the Atlantic Ocean only to have all of its multi-million dollar gizmos dependent on electricity go awry .. with no backups. One person on board knew how to navigate based on wind alone and brought them back to the US safe to harbor.

The history of the currently used compass (several versions of
May 19, 2016 Groot rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
More than you'd ever want to know about compasses. Entertainingly written, it really accurately describes the history of compasses, neither failing to deliver on the promise of its title, nor over-delivering. Like the history of toasters, or something.
Sep 06, 2009 HBalikov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You have to have a liking for details but Gurney starts out with a contemporary anecdote of what a modern ship encounters when its electronic compass fails and then recounts how the Chinese, peoples of the Mediterranean and the North Sea have innovated and explored. There are triumphs and tragedies with this "child" of the lodestone. One of the best sections is contained in the chapter on Edmund Halley who is not as famous for his life work with enhancing the use of the compass, but should be!
Mar 15, 2015 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A straightforward and well-written account of the development of the maritime compass, mainly from a British perspective. A stylish and enjoyable read.
Jan 21, 2016 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
enjoyable if you are into nautical yarns
Seth Jones
I listened to the audiobook, checked out from my local library, while on a car trip. There's lots of information presented in this book, which gets a little tedious at times, but Gurney does a fairly good job of interspersing interesting anecdotes into his narrative. I don't reccomend it for everyone, but those interested in nautical stories and physics will enjoy it.
A highly readable account of the development of the compass (and other navigational methods) from ancient to modern times. The author did a fine job explaining the science to a lay-person (should I say lubber?) like me, but what really made the book a delight was the number of anecdotes and biographical tidbits included.

An excellent start to my "Age of Exploration" summer.
Gavin Payne
I compare this book to "Salt: A world history" because it speaks to a single item that influenced the course of history. Salt was well written and seemed to have a plan and organization. Compass seemed to ramble on and take many tangents. I enjoyed the book, but it took some energy to stay connected to the material.
Dec 03, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book gives the history, not so much of how the compass was invented, but of how it was perfected. It is pretty technical but the author has a good eye for the interesting and he includes many ancedotes. One lesson I learned is that even good governments, like Britain, are hampered by bureaucracy, inefficiency and cronyism.
Enjoyable, especially if you happen to like histories of tools like I do. Watching the evolution of such a basic thing is pretty fascinating. Interesting tidbits about the men involved and how much attention they paid to making connections with the right sorts of people.
Jul 26, 2012 Amanda rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Very interesting, and much wider in scope than I ever expected. The author's style is very readable and often laugh-out-loud funny, and many of the personalities involved are stranger than any in fiction. Would be great for someone into sailing or maritime history.
Jun 24, 2012 Richie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall a fairly interesting book on the history of the compass. I think this book would have been more enjoyable had I already had an understanding of the inner-workings of a compass.
Louis Bouchard
Jun 14, 2013 Louis Bouchard rated it it was ok
A book on the history and improvement of the compass should really contain more technical information on the problems, innovations, and effects of those innovations than this one did.
Sep 12, 2007 Jesus added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sailors
Shelves: cartography
This is a neat history of a nautical instrument focussing on it's political & scientific development mainly in relation to European colonial exploration & warfare.
Apr 12, 2011 J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
a good straight forward read about the history of the development of the compass. well done without excessive detail or discursiveness.
Jun 09, 2011 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good history book. Full of Knowledge we will need to know when we are the few to survive the Apocalypse.
Aug 13, 2008 Jim rated it liked it
Great history of the evolution of this simple but critical outdoor device.
In intriguing chronicle of the development of the nautical compass.
Mar 09, 2013 Carrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Boring and poorly written
Erik Edwards
Erik Edwards marked it as to-read
Jun 21, 2016
Gordon Macdonald
Gordon Macdonald marked it as to-read
Jun 18, 2016
Hannah marked it as to-read
Jun 17, 2016
Murali rated it it was ok
Jun 13, 2016
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