Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time

Today’s post is on Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time by Dava Sobel.  It is 208 pages long and is published by Walker & Company. The cover has a compass rose with John Harrison, H1, and a ship on the high seas over the rose. The intended reader is someone who is interested in nautical history, unsung heroes, and good writing. There is no sex, no language, and no violence in this book.  But some the language maybe too difficult for younger readers; ten and up just to be safe. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day- and had been for centuries.
The quest for a solution had occupied scientists for the better part of two centuries when, in 1741, England’s Parliament upped the ante by offering a king’s ransom to anyone whose method or device proved successful. One man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution- a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had even been able to do on land.
Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clock making. Through Dava Sobel’s consummate skill, Longitude opens many new windows on our world.

Review- I spend part of childhood on sailboats. From birth to three I lived on one full time and I still walk like the earth is going to move under my feet. I feel a special closeness with the sea and I hope one day to live there year round. I think that I was predisposed to like and be interested in this topic. I was not disappointed. Sobel gives the reader a brief history explaining why longitude was so important to sailors, merchants, and everybody else. She gives insight into the lives of sailors, scholars, lords, and herself. With wit, understanding, and clarity the reader moves from the earliest human history to present day. All the dramas that come with people trying to solve a great mystery and the infighting when it happens. I was surprised that there is a villain in this story. A real villain who wanted to stop Harrison from getting the prize money because he did not like the answer; but in the end Harrison and the brilliant clocks won.  I want to go and see H1, H2, H3 and H4 in person.  

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from local library.