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Longitude (1995)

di Dava Sobel, William J. H. Andrewes

Altri autori: Vedi la sezione altri autori.

UtentiRecensioniPopolaritàMedia votiCitazioni
7,801162817 (3.87)279
Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of John Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.… (altro)
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» Vedi le 279 citazioni

Inglese (151)  Spagnolo (3)  Tedesco (2)  Olandese (2)  Francese (2)  Danese (1)  Tutte le lingue (161)
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  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
"When I'm playful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales. --Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi"

Author Dava Sobel begins each chapter with a literary quote -- a sign that she knows how to make science and history palatable to a casual reader like me. Actually I found this book so engrossing it was hard to put down.

Not being able to accurately measure longitude put seagoing vessels in grave peril of crashing or being stranded at sea. So serious was the problem that in 1714 the British Parliament offered a king's ransom for a solution.

English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776), a self-taught genius, was obsessed with solving the longitude problem with a clock that would keep accurate time at sea. For forty years he devoted his life to creating his chronometer. The scientific elite favored an astronomical solution over a mechanical one.

This is a suspenseful history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking -- a true story of obsession, intrigue, and the common man against the establishment -- and a beautifully written "gem of a book".

The elegant small sized paperback (which I found at Goodwill) has French fold covers and full color plates.

Around the year in 52 books challenge notes:
#21. A book related to Maximilian Hell, the noted astronomer and Jesuit Priest who was born in 1720 ( )
  Linda_Louise | Jan 20, 2021 |
Interesting read but felt like should have been an article rather than a book. ( )
  drew_asson | Dec 3, 2020 |
I found this so boring. I thought I would like it ( )
  mahallett | Nov 8, 2020 |
Dava Sobel's popular history Longitude is in a difficult position, because the reader wants to know more about John Harrison and his trials, but Sobel's dry writing probably wouldn't maintain interest in a longer book. The book does very well to set out its stall; we take for granted the ability to keep time accurately nowadays, unaware of its "contentious history" (pg. 164), but Sobel shows us just how difficult – nay, impossible – it was to keep time and, in navigation, to establish longitude accurately, in a world before Harrison's ingenuity came along. Educating the general reader on why this was such a problem, without turning us every which way with maths and maps and geometry, can be counted a success for Sobel.

The problem of establishing longitude offered two potential solutions: the mechanical one pioneered by Harrison, which eventually succeeded, and the lunar one, favoured by many of the influential brains of the time. Again, Sobel is good at linking the timekeeping story to the world of astronomy: the 'clockwork universe' by which people speculated one could keep time and establish longitude by observing the position of the Moon, or the relative positions of Jupiter's moons. Though Harrison's solution ultimately proved more practical (and precise), the various lunar methods were not as silly as they might retrospectively appear (we use satellites for GPS, for example), and it led to other scientific breakthroughs, such as discovering that light had a velocity (pg. 29).

Where the book proved something of a disappointment was regarding John Harrison himself; frankly, I wanted more – felt I needed more. His is the great achievement, one of those rare individuals humanity is occasionally blessed with who move the human race forward when no one else can, and Sobel sometimes struggles to convey the magnitude of his achievement. She does well enough, but the reader has to pause and ponder to really weigh Harrison's impact, doing the work themselves rather than have it delivered to them by Sobel.

Similarly, I felt Harrison's personal story deserved more attention. He was a low-born, self-taught "country bumpkin" (pg. 72) who shifted humanity forward, working painstakingly on his task for decades, and who ultimately saw himself treated shabbily by the blue-blooded establishment, who favoured the lunar method over the mechanical one. I expected more on how he pursued his task (the twenty-year gap between his second major clock and his all-important third is dealt with in the space of a page) and also on the political rivalries which hindered him when it came to collecting the £20,000 reward offered by Parliament for solving the longitude problem. We get little sense of his personality: when Sobel writes that Harrison "forswore Shakespeare" in his house (pg. 64), she does not elaborate on why.

Ultimately, Longitude is a fascinating if flawed account of an important chapter of mankind, a time when much intellectual effort was spent on mastering a critical scientific conundrum and one man provided the breakthrough. John Harrison is not unknown nowadays, but he is perhaps not as well known as he should be (if you're not a history buff and the name sounds familiar, it might only be because an auctioned Harrison watch makes Del Boy and Rodney into millionaires on Only Fools and Horses). Sobel's book is a success, in that we become more aware of the difficult history and don't take the scientific advances for granted, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking for a little more colour. ( )
1 vota Mike_F | Nov 2, 2020 |
Ms. Sobel, a former science reporter for The New York Times, confesses in her source notes that ''for a few months at the outset, I maintained the insane idea that I could write this book without traveling to England and seeing the timekeepers firsthand.'' Eventually she did visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, where the four clocks that James Harrison constructed are exhibited.
She writes, ''Coming face with these machines at last -- after having read countless accounts of their construction and trial, after having seen every detail of their insides and outsides in still and moving pictures -- reduced me to tears.''
Such is the eloquence of this gem of a book that it makes you understand exactly how she felt.
 
Here's a swell little book that tells an amazing story that is largely forgotten today but that deserves to be remembered.

It is the story of the problem of navigation at sea--which plagued ocean-going mariners for centuries--and how it was finally solved.

It is the story of how an unknown, uneducated and unheralded clockmaker solved the problem that had stumped some of the greatest scientific minds. And it is the story of how the Establishment of the 18th Century tried to block his solution.

The essential problem is this: In the middle of the ocean, how can you tell where you are? That is, how can you tell how far east or west of your starting point you have gone?
aggiunto da smasler | modificaLos Angeles Times, Lee Dembart (Nov 24, 1995)
 

» Aggiungi altri autori (22 potenziali)

Nome dell'autoreRuoloTipo di autoreOpera?Stato
Sobel, DavaAutoreautore primariotutte le edizioniconfermato
Andrewes, William J. H.autore principaletutte le edizioniconfermato
Armstrong, NeilPrefazioneautore secondarioalcune edizioniconfermato
Dilla Martínez, XavierTraduttoreautore secondarioalcune edizioniconfermato
Reading, KateNarratoreautore secondarioalcune edizioniconfermato
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When I'm playful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales. --Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
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For my mother, Betty Gruber Sobel, a four-star navigator who can sail by the heavens but always drives by way of Canarsie.
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Once on a Wednesday excursion when I was a little girl, my father bought me a beaded wire ball that I loved.
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Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of John Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking. Through Dava Sobel's consummate skill, Longitude will open a new window on our world for all who read it.

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