Book 44 – Longitude

Book – Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
Author – Dava Sobel
Year – 1995
Genre – Popular Science
Leant to me by Faye Braggins

A couple of years back, my good friend Faye lent me several books.  To my utter shame, I didn’t read any of them very quickly.  This was silly for Faye has impecable taste, and I should habve realised that the books would be very good.

In time I read the Mitch Albom book, Five People You Meet In Heaven and it was a brilliant read.  Nothing like what I was expecting, but brilliant.  At the beginning of last year’s challenge I read a book of hers called Fallen which again was brilliant.  Nothing like what I was expecting, but brilliant.  And finally I have gotten around to reading one of the other books she lent me, Longitude.  And it was definitely not what I was expecting.

I thought that it was a novel – most likely a seafaring novel considering the name.  After a few pages, I realised that it was not suddenly going to burst into prose and got myself prepared to have a slog.  The reason for this assumption is the rough outline of the book which is sketched out in the opening chapter.

It is basicly a book chartering the search to discover a reliable method of measuring longitude at sea.  It follows the life of the master clock maker, John Harrison, as he takes on many people’s opinions of the best way to do this, including the Royal Astromoner , and and battles to prove that the chronometer is a superior method to tracking lunar distances.  Not the kind of thing that would generally spring to mind as page turning stuff.

Yet somehow it is.  There is plenty of political intrigue, sabotage, and neat coincidences to keep the tale interesting, and the whole thing is written very tightly.  Despite having literally no background knowledge on any of this – I didn’t even realise that there had ever been an issue with finding longitude, despite it having once been one of science’s greatest mysteries – I got quite absorbed into the book and really enjoyed it.

The one thing I will say, is that there are still massive gaps in my knowledge.  I am not sure whether this is due to me being a bit dim and not picking up on the ideas that are explained well enough, or if I am being a bit of a geek and bemoaning the fact that there is not adequate expansion on certain things, but either way, I would like to know more than is given about some things which are almost brushed away with a ‘this was a problem at the time, but they solved it in a way that is too difficult to explain so we won’t’.  A small gripe really as it is still crammed with good info. 

All in all, andother hit from Faye.  And definitely not what I was expecting, but brilliant.


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