Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius That Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

This little book was a book swap find that was a delightful way to fulfill one of last year's goals-- read more nonfiction.

I loved this book. Because it is set in the 1700s, mostly in England and involves science it manages to ramble through many of my favorites settings: the wacky Royal Society, pirate-ridden seas and old-timey political intrigue. The man who found "The Longitude," as it was called in the old days, was named John Harrison. His story is the kind Americans (even me!) like best: poor boy with big brains makes good. Not that it was easy, the race for the 20,000 pound prize for finding "a method to determine longitude to an accuracy of a half a degree of a great circle" took 40 years and was crazy vicious. Stargazers and tinkers (including Harrison, a clockmaker) chased each other, Captain Cook makes an appearance and Harrison's clocks still run today.


Edited to add: sorry about the crappy photo!


hip_ragdoll said...

I don't think it's a crappy photo at all. Goodness, I put up crappy photos of my books like that all the time. Very good photo. Indeed. Makes us know that the people taking them are human and not just grabbing the cover from Amazon, which always works in a pinch...

Now I need to apologize for rambling.

Amanda said...

Doesn't it seem like all the good things have already been discovered? Sure, there is plenty yet to be unravled, like how the brain works, the mystery of black hole behaviour, wuantum physics and on and on...but largely, I will never comprehend even layperson writing on those topics. The discovery of a lost world, or laying-down of rules of language, or source of unbounded cocoa bean crops, or "the longitude"...sigh...grand discoveries all seem to be in the bag.

I suppose my research will have to continue focusing on "inventing the perfect cookie, brownie and cupcake".

Amanda said...

PS: there are some sweet spelling mistakes in my first comment...yikes!

Carrie said...

ragdoll: you never need to apogize for rambling! Thanks for stopping by!

amanda: exactly! that is what the sigh at the end was supposed to convey. learning about all these things is a real adventure for me since I never learned much in school.

mary said...

I was gonna say, Oh! I read that book.

Then I remembered. I was the one who brought it to the swap.

Amanda said...

I was "too smart" to bother learning much in school myself and now non-fiction books are my catch-up class. Remedial learning for the previously-too-clever. Who knew, back in 1985, that in my 30s I would discover math, science and other "dumb" things are in fact rather fascinating?