Laala Alghata's Reviews > Longitude

Longitude by Dava Sobel
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May 16, 2011

really liked it

“He wrestled the world’s whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch.” — Dava Sobel, Longitude

This book came as part of a set of nonfiction I’d bought, and to be honest, I doubt I would have heard of it (at least at the point at which I read it) otherwise. It chronicles the longitude problem and the inspiring tale of John Harrison. It’s completely engrossing. It’s simple enough to explain — back in C17, sailors had tremendous difficulty with navigation. They could easily calculate the latitude, but not their longitude, which led to a vast number of people being lost at sea (in my head this is also how Columbus “discovered” America).

The problem was so great that several governments had huge rewards set for anyone who could solve it. The largest was in Britain, where a King’s Ransom was offered.

Enter a long line of individuals, including Galileo and other greats, trying to solve it. But in the end, it was solved by an absolutely extraordinary English man - John Harrison. He suffered so many slights (slights is a very very mild way to put it) and abuses of his intellect, but he was a genius and a pioneer. He didn’t only created the “sea clocks” (which solved the longitude problem) — he used methods to create the clock and mechanisms that are imperative to the function of many things today.

I’d encourage you to read this book, but to be honest it’s mostly John Harrison I’d encourage you to look into. It doesn’t have to be this book, but read about this extraordinary man. It’s so easy, in light of the vast technological advances that we’re making almost annually now, to forget that in the past there were problems that couldn’t be solved for hundreds of years, even by some of the world’s greatest thinkers.
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