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Longitude
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About the Author

Dava Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, and The Planets, coauthor of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

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YA‘Opening with a chapter that outlines what follows, Sobel whets readers' appetites for hearing the colorful details of the search for a way for mariners to determine longitude. In an age when ships' stores were limited and scurvy killed many a seaman, missing a landfall often meant death‘as, of course, did running aground. Sobel provides a lively treatment of the search through the centuries for a ready answer to the longitude problem, either through using lunar tables or through making an accurate clock not subject to the vicissitudes of weather and ocean conditions. Her account includes not only scientific advances, but also the perseverance, pettiness, politics, and interesting anecdotes that figured in along the way (it wasn't limes, for example, that first prevented scurvy on English ships, but sauerkraut). A pleasing mixture of basic science, cultural history, and personality conflicts makes this slim volume a winner.‘Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA

If you've grown up at a time when orbiting satellites were taken for granted, you'd probably not find reading a book about longitude an enticing prospect. But Sobel, an award-winning former science reporter for the New York Times who writes frequently for Audubon, Discover, LIFE, and Omni magazines, has transformed what could have been a dry subject into an interesting tale of scientific discovery. It is difficult to realize that a problem that can now be solved with a couple of cheap watches and a few simple calculations at one time appeared insurmountable. In 1714, the British Parliament offered a king's ransom of £20 million ($12 million in today's currency) to anyone who could solve the problem of how to measure longitude at sea. Sobel recounts clockmaker John Harrison's lifelong struggle to win this prize by developing a timepiece impervious to the pitch and roll of the sea. His clock, known today as the chronometer, was rejected by the Longitude Board, which favored a celestial solution. Despite some awkward writing, this brief, if at times sketchy, book is recommended for popular science collections.‘James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago

While sailors can readily gauge latitude by the height of the sun or guiding stars above the horizon, the measurement of longitude bedeviled navigators for centuries, resulting in untold shipwrecks. Galileo, Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley entreated the moon and stars for help, but their astronomical methods failed. In 1714, England's Parliament offered £20,000 (equivalent to millions of dollars today) to anyone who could solve the problem. Self-educated English clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776) found the answer by inventing a chronometer‘a friction-free timepiece, impervious to pitch and roll, temperature and humidity‘that would carry the true time from the home port to any destination. But Britain's Board of Longitude, a panel of scientists, naval officers and government officials, favored the astronomers over humble ``mechanics'' like Harrison, who received only a portion of the prize after decades of struggle. Yet his approach ultimately triumphed, enabling Britannia to rule the waves. In an enthralling gem of a book, former New York Times science reporter Sobel spins an amazing tale of political intrigue, foul play, scientific discovery and personal ambition. BOMC and History Book Club selections. (Oct.)

"This is a gem of a book." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times"A simple tale, brilliantly told." --Washington Post Book World"As much a tale of intrigue as it is of science...A book full of gems for anyone interested in history, geography, astronomy, navigation, clockmaking, and--not the least--plain old human ambition and greed." --Philadelphia Inquirer"Only someone with Dava Sobel's unusual background in both astronomy and psychology could have written it. Longitude is a wonderful story, wonderfully told." --Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses"The marine chronometer is a glorious and fascinating object, but it is not a simple one, and its explanation calls for a writer as skilled with words as the watchmakers were with their tools; happily such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel." --Patrick O'Brian, author of The Commodore and the Aubrey/Maturin series

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