Sylvia'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
Jan 16, 2012

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bookshelves: nonfiction

The most interesting part of this book is its history lesson: until the mid-1700s, the most difficult scientific problem in centuries of seafaring was the inability to measure longitude. Without knowing longitude, sailors had no reliable way of knowing where they were, resulting in lives, ships, and fortunes routinely lost at sea. So great was the need for a solution that the English parliament put up a bounty of £ 20,000 (multi-million dollars in today’s currency) for anyone who could solve the problem. The book sets up the conflict between the greatest astronomers of the time (Galileo, Newton, Halley, and others), who thought the solution lay in mapping the moon and stars, and one man, John Harrison, an English clockmaker with no formal education, who labored against the establishment and a biased Board of Longitude. He solved the problem by making a revolutionary friction-free, pendulum-less clock that kept extremely accurate time despite salt air and rolling oceans. Although it bogs down in the middle, Longitude satisfies with its tale of Harrison's life-long quest and ultimate vindication.
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