Longitude - The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
About the Reviewer:
Lee Grodzins Ph.D.
Physicist, professor emeritus, MIT, COS Founder
As reviewed by: Lee Grodzins Ph.D.
Annotation: A saga of science and invention, and an historical account of John Harrison's struggle with the technical and political problems of longitude. His tenacity and genius led to the invention of an accurate maritime clock that solved the problem of keeping precise time at sea. The illustrated edition by Sobel & William J. H. Andrewes provides wonderful pictures of old maps, machinery and instruments that increase the reader's appreciation of Harrison's skill.
When you next go to London, take the boat trip up the Thames to the Greenwich Observatory, a pleasant ride even in January. Have your picture taken at Longitude Zero, visit the museum, and stare in awe at the four timepieces created in the 1700's by John Harrison to win a prize of £20,000 for creating a maritime clock that would keep accurate time for measuring a ship's east-west position, while sailing stormy oceans through winter and summer.
Longitude by Dava Sobel is the superb story of the race for that princely sum, a race that stretched the envelopes of geography, astronomy, physics and technology of the 1700's, and involved the machinations of some of the famous characters of the century. Most of all it is the story of Harrison, an unknown, self-taught genius who, over a period of more than 40 years, patiently, single-mindedly, innovated the techniques that culminated in H-4, a large pocket-size watch, that won the prize, and continues to amaze.
Sobel's book, published in 1995, was an instant success. The critical acclaim, "a gem of a book", "fascinating", "nearly perfect prose", "enthralling", "as much a tale of intrigue as it is of science", is still appropriate. The edition written with William Andrews, with its beautiful, useful illustrations and annotations is especially welcome, giving presence, understanding, and appreciation to the people, the challenges of the problem, and wonders of clockmaking.
~ Lee Grodzins, Ph.D., Physicist, Professor Emeritus, MIT