Thursday, September 04, 2008

Last night I finished Longitude by Dava Sobel, the story of how the problem of determining longitude at sea was solved.

Longitude is fascinating, but fairly short book. It's main focus is the watchmaker John Harrison, who created the first chronometers that could give accurate time even when subjected to the motion, temperature changes and rough conditions of a seagoing voyage. The chapters describing the problems, and Harrison's eventual solutions are fairly short and would be much better with illustrations to explain the chronometer's methods, or photographs of the surviving chronometers. The bulk of the book is about the political struggle that Harrison had to go through to be awarded the Longitude Prize, against rivals that proposed to use the lunar distance method and who were better positioned politically -- one of whom actually sat on the board that judged the outcome.

Nicely written book.

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