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Longitude
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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. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution. The scientific establishment of Europe--from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton--had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever 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, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.
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About the Author

Dana Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, The Planets, co-author of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

Reviews

This look at the scientific quest to find a way for ships at sea to determine their longitude was a PW bestseller for eight weeks. (Oct.)

We take so much for granted. Few of us have ever thought about why and how sailors navigate without becoming lost the moment land is no longer in sight. In fact, prior to the 18th century, whole navies, thousands of lives, and great fortunes were lost because no one knew how to measure longitude. Here is the story of the growing need, the parliamentary offers of huge awards, the politics, the frustrations, and the eventual success of John Harrison. An unschooled woodworker, Harrison developed the chronometer, which was much criticized at the outset in part because competition for the princely rewards was so fierce. The interlocking histories of astronomy, clocks, and navigation reveal the significance of the problem to the seagoing world, the parallel efforts to find answers, and Harrison's drive for perfection and resolution. While the complexities of the problems and personalities are not always easy to follow here, this abridged recording is nonetheless an interesting chronicle of scientific achievement. Reader Jane Jacobs consistently narrates in a clear and distinct manner. Libraries with collections in seafaring and scientific adventure should acquire.‘Carolyn Alexander, Columbia Lib. System, Monterey, Cal.

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