The True Story of A Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Book - 1995
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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.

Publisher: New York : Walker, 1995.
ISBN: 9780802713124
Branch Call Number: 526.62/SOBE
Characteristics: viii, 184 p. ; 20 cm.


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Oct 27, 2019

previous edition:
Walker & Co; First Edition 1995
ISBN-10: 0802713122, SBN-13: 978-0802713124
hc, 184 pages
author reference:

minor_cat Jan 11, 2019

A compelling read for someone who had very little interest in the subject, but became fascinated in how sailors explored the oceans before the technology was fully developed. The persistence of the man who really pushed the technological leap is what also makes this book an important read. The movie was a good interpretation of the book, but as a read, this book is in my top 10 non-fiction reads.

Sep 08, 2018

Written by Dava Sobel, this book is about one of the greatest problems that baffled people for centuries: the problem of longitude. Centuries ago, sailors were unable to navigate the seas with the ease and effectiveness as today’s people. While scientists and nations were unable to successfully solve the problem, many shipwrecks and deaths continued at sea. However, as time passed, progress was made in solving the problem and measuring longitude effectively. This book takes readers on that journey, and it shows how the collective ideas of people over time helped change travel over sea, and to some extent, it reshaped the world. People who are interested in science, geography, history, and navigation may find the book interesting. However, even though it is well-written and informative, I found it quite boring, which is why I would give it 3.5 stars.
@Riveting_Reviews of the Hamilton Public Library Teen Review Board

Jan 09, 2018

A lone genius he was, with no equal in our time. The book covers not only his (lunar distance) rivals, but also the more successful "entrepreneurs" having inspired to customize and popularize his timepiece, they may be similar to the lucky few who brought the modern gadgets to our lives today.
A thin volume doesn't skimp on scientific data and mechanical details, which could satisfy the curiosity if well understood, or affect the story little if not.
Hard core science (Astronomy - mastered and being explored by the privileged elite) lost to the mechanical craft (uneducated "clocksmith") on a practical problem solving, where a creative mind applied.

May 23, 2017

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.

Mar 07, 2017

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.

Mar 18, 2016

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

LMcShaneCLE Oct 11, 2015

Referenced today @steven_litt http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2015/10/cleveland_museum_of_arts_monet.html

Aug 27, 2015

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.

library1172 Sep 30, 2013

This book was an interesting and enjoyable read.

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