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Longitude
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If you've grown up at a time when orbiting satellites were taken for granted, you'd probably not find reading a book about longitude an enticing prospect. But Sobel, an award-winning former science reporter for the New York Times who writes frequently for Audubon, Discover, LIFE, and Omni magazines, has transformed what could have been a dry subject into an interesting tale of scientific discovery. It is difficult to realize that a problem that can now be solved with a couple of cheap watches and a few simple calculations at one time appeared insurmountable. In 1714, the British Parliament offered a king's ransom of £20 million ($12 million in today's currency) to anyone who could solve the problem of how to measure longitude at sea. Sobel recounts clockmaker John Harrison's lifelong struggle to win this prize by developing a timepiece impervious to the pitch and roll of the sea. His clock, known today as the chronometer, was rejected by the Longitude Board, which favored a celestial solution. Despite some awkward writing, this brief, if at times sketchy, book is recommended for popular science collections.‘James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago

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.)

YA‘Opening with a chapter that outlines what follows, Sobel whets readers' appetites for hearing the colorful details of the search for a way for mariners to determine longitude. In an age when ships' stores were limited and scurvy killed many a seaman, missing a landfall often meant death‘as, of course, did running aground. Sobel provides a lively treatment of the search through the centuries for a ready answer to the longitude problem, either through using lunar tables or through making an accurate clock not subject to the vicissitudes of weather and ocean conditions. Her account includes not only scientific advances, but also the perseverance, pettiness, politics, and interesting anecdotes that figured in along the way (it wasn't limes, for example, that first prevented scurvy on English ships, but sauerkraut). A pleasing mixture of basic science, cultural history, and personality conflicts makes this slim volume a winner.‘Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA

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