Ron's Reviews > Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Longitude by Dava Sobel
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's review
Mar 30, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

This is a neat little book. I suppose you could say there a structured story in here, but despite the subtitle, its not really an in depth story of John Harrison. Its more like a well written conversation about the longitude problem with someone one knows all sorts of interesting little factoids.

Ive read more than a handful of books on European history covering the period of this book's tale, inluding books about the enlightenment, the history of science, histories of inventions, art, thought, ideas, and the like. What struck me as so strange is that during the course of those readings, I don't recall running into what this author calls "the greatest scientific problem of his [Harrison's] time." At least not running into any substantive discussion of it. Its a fascinating problem and well worth the effort of discussing it.

Sobel makes a passing effort at creating a villian for the reader in Nevil Maskelyne, but its not necessary, as the story of the clocks and watches Harrison created is quirky enough to sustain interest throughout. Particularly enjoyable was the story of the "Board of Longtiude" set up to evalauate inventions and pay a monstrous reward for someone who could solve the problem. Given that we are in a primamry election cycle where health care costs are called "waste" by some, I cant help but think of what these candidates would say about a group of wig-wearing scientists being paid by the government to discuss watches and pay out the equivalent sum of $20MM of Uncle Sam's money to one they liked best.
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