While calculating latitude had historically come relatively easy to ancient scientists and navigators by measuring the height of the sun and stars, there was no comparatively straightforward way to determine longitude -- bad news for ship captains the world over. As recently as 1714, English Parliament offered a prize to anyone who could devise a method of calculating longitude to within a set degree of accuracy. Clockmaker John Harrison accepted the challenge and proceeded to devote the next four decades of his life to this achievement, despite obstacles placed in his path by England's astronomer royal and the Board of Longitude itself. This slim volume is an interesting history behind a scientific concept that we take for granted today.
A quick and fun read about one man's effort to solve a critical problem through experimentation sand tinkering. His struggle was compounded by the theoretical scientists of his day, because they wanted a beautiful mathematical solution to the problem. Their disdain for machinery and their power over the politicians responsible for awarding contracts made for a social challenge as well as a technical challenge.
The 'Lone Genius' was John Harrison, (1693 - 1776). Dava Sobel's well-written book about him brings the story to life. I read the book in 2012 and the following year I saw his plaque in Westminster Abbey. You can see a photo of it (with the longitude for the stone inscribed on the inlaid steel strip) at the Abbey's website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/john-harrison
Referenced today @steven_litt http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2015/10/cleveland_museum_of_arts_monet.html
This is the fascinating story of John Harrison, the man who single-handedly and without the benefit of high education, technical antecedents, social standing or public or private patronage, solved the age-old problem of determining longitude -- knowing one's precise position in the East-West direction. His solution was blingingly simple but almost impossibly difficult to execute: designing and constructing a highly accurate seagoing clock. As has been so often the case, a true genius and original thinker, far from being honored and rewarded for his achievements and contribution to mankind (in this case, sailors in particular) he is beset by jealous enemies and abused by the authorities of his day almost to the end of his life. Despite every possible obstacle placed in his way, he succeeds in the end.
This book was an interesting and enjoyable read.
I honestly did not expect to enjoy this book, thinking it would merely be "good for me". What a pleasure to be so wrong! Wonderful, personal writing of a significant story. Bonus : now I understand about longitudes.
A good account of a fascinating story - wish it had been more compelling. I wish it was a novel.
A brief, but precise account of the search for and discovery of a method for measuring longitude. The portrait of John Harrison (24 March 1693 – 24 March 1776) who developed the instrument for the task, is fascinating. He was a driven, brilliant man, capable of conquering the most complex obstacles. Under-appreciated in his time, his obsessiveness and awkward communication skills did not help to advance his cause or his unique genius. Although a commonplace issue today, assessing longitude was once a bane to the shipping industry and truly a matter of life and death. Not surprisingly, politics and greed delayed the solution and the recognition John Harrison deserved during his lifetime.
The fascinating story about the quest to invent a way to determine longitude at sea. In 1714 John Harrison, a self-taught clock maker, was up against the scientists of his time to find a way to determine "longitude at sea" to assit captains of ships in navigating where they were resulting in fewer ship wrecks. A very easily readable account for the layperson of a involved scientific topic.
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