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Longitude [Paperback]

Dava Sobel
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (246 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 15 2007
This edition of the book that launched the narrative nonfiction genre comes with a new introduction by Neil Armstrong and an eight-page colour section.

A "biography" of the chronometer, Longitude is also a compelling human drama that's full of heroism and chicanery. For centuries, scientists sought to tell time accurately at sea. Most believed the solution was celestial; John Harrison dared to believe he could build the perfect clock.

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Product Description

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Dava Sobel's Longitude tells the story of how 18th-century scientist and clockmaker William Harrison solved one of the most perplexing problems of history--determining east-west location at sea. This lush, colorfully illustrated edition adds lots of pictures to the story, giving readers a more satisfying sense of the times, the players, and the puzzle. This was no obscure, curious difficulty--without longitude, ships often found themselves so far off course that sailors would starve or die of scurvy before they could reach port. When a nationally-sponsored contest offered a hefty cash prize to the person who could develop a method to accurately determine longitude, the race was on. In the end, the battle of accuracy--and wills--fought between Harrison and arch-rival Maskelyne was ruthless and dramatic, worthy of a Hollywood feature film. Longitude's story is surprising and fascinating, offering a window into the past, before Global Positioning Satellites made it look easy. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This look at the scientific quest to find a way for ships at sea to determine their longitude was a PW bestseller for eight weeks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
Once on a Wednesday excursion when I was a little girl, my father bought me a beaded wire ball that I loved. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
So as not to repeat myself and try the patience of those customers who have already read "Longitude", I will confine my comments to the additional material in the illustrated version. If you haven't read "Longitude", it's a great little book, and I refer you to reviews by myself and others on that book's page.
"The Illustrated Longitude" contains the entire original text of Dava Sobel's book, "Longitude", along with 178 illustrations provided by William J. H. Andrewes. Mr. Andrewes hosted the Longitude Symposium that inspired Dava Sobel's book and has himself published the annotated proceedings of the Symposium in his book entitled "The Quest for Longitude". The illustrations in this book consist of portraits of people and photographs of documents and instruments which are referenced in the text. The documents include maps, journals, pages of books, and official decrees. Nearly every major player in the Longitude drama is represented with at least one portrait. Most fascinating are the photographs of the time pieces, themselves. I found the illustrations to be only mildly interesting until I got to the discussion of John Harrison's longitude clocks. At this point, I was astonished to see how grand and beautiful H-1 was...and still is, and how small and elegant H-4 is in contrast. I found it difficult to picture Harrison's clocks while reading Dava Sobel's book, and the ability to see them in this illustrated version has left me even more impressed with Mr. Harrison's work. All of Harrison's clocks are represented with large color photographs, and many of the later copies of his works by Larcum Kendall, Thomas Mudge, John Arnold, and Thomas Earnshaw are also pictured.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite enough depth or breadth for my taste. Jan. 31 2004
Longitude certainly isn't a bad story, just a somewhat constrained one. Within the scope of the book, the story is interesting and well researched. However, one should note that there is a bit more to the history of this solution for dependable navigation due to the problem of longitude than Dava Sobel adresses in this small history. This does not detract from the observation that Longitude is an entertaining and informative (and factually accurate) read nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting series of anecdotes Jan. 25 2014
By Rob Slaven TOP 100 REVIEWER
I picked up this very little gem at a library book sale, so the first thing to note is that there are copies everywhere, so don't by any means bother to pay full price for one. Second most important is to note that there are apparently two versions. There are those, like mine, that have never even heard of the idea of an illustration. More illuminatingly, there is an illustrated version. Be aware of which you're getting. Thirdly, observe if you will just how short this book is. It's a couple hours reading at best.

Moving on to the usual format of Good and Bad, the only real negative I would apply here is that it does at times seem a bit scattered, as if a good central idea was stretched a bit beyond its proper length. It just seems to meander rather randomly at times.

On the vast positive side, there are all sorts of delicious tidbits from history. So much so that it spurred me to write a blog entry just from the first few dozen pages. I'll reproduce it at the end as an illustration but in summary a very informative book filled with delightful anecdotes.


Tonight's reading of Dava Sobel's book `Longitude' reminded me of one of my favorite great 'difficulties' from history. Specifically, just how hard it has been throughout mankind's existence to tell what exactly the time is. It is one of the most bedeviling of problems, since we live on a sphere and the motion of the sun and moon define the very concept of time for us. Unfortunately, twelve noon in New York looks exactly like twelve noon in New Delhi.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
No, the Marine Chronometer was not created by Ralph Nader nor Bobby Kennedy. I doubt, in fact, if John Harrison ever even filled out an Environmental Impact Report. He did have to kiss a lot of Royal Academy rings by the time he had finished creating a fantastic new way to measure longitude accurately. The amount of lives, ships, time and cargo saved by the use of his invention is incalculable. This is an example of the value that the benevolent heroes of the Industrial Revolution brought to peoples lives then and still do today. His creation is a shinning example of the goodness brought into the world by men of the mind. How can we ever repay them? I can only say thank you to them and to the wonderful author of this book. There should be more like her - and John Harrison.
A shipping company could purchase one of Harrisonï¿s chronometers and could save millions and millions in vessels and goods that would have previously been lost at sea or stolen. The markets as a result were flooded with more and more goods that were before unavailable or extremely expensive or impossible to find. This is more goodness created by men of the mind. The author tells the suspenseful tale of Harrisonï¿s journey into clock making where he shinned like a fine jewel, over the objections of backward and prejudiced officials, and in the process solved one to the major scientific problems of his day. I love this kind of story. It gives me fuel to carry on when things get difficult in my own life and work. I have always respected the Industrialist Heroes; they always seemed rational and good. They were always acting in the face of adversity even while governmental parasites and officials were cursing them and calling them bad names.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
I used to be a sailor....took longitude and latitude for granted,as I do so many extraordinary discoveries that give comfort to my life. A good read
Published 5 months ago by Sandra L. Lambert
1.0 out of 5 stars Great Service and a Good Read
Great Service from the sender, quick and clean book.
Dava Sobel writing compelling story. This is a must read for all amateur back yard astronomers.
Published 16 months ago by R Weigand
4.0 out of 5 stars The book Longitude
It is a subject of great interest to me
The book is well written easily understood and explains
the complexity in solving the age old problem of... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Charles Osborn
5.0 out of 5 stars Longitude
The order arrived as predicted and is in the condition stated. I am more than pleased and happy to use the seller again.
Published on Oct. 20 2011 by Mr. Nathan Scott
3.0 out of 5 stars A short introduction about a unique part of nautical history
John Harrison, an English clock-maker devoted his life to the production of just 4 clocks. In doing so he solved the centuries old problem of captains determining their longitude... Read more
Published on June 26 2011 by Jeff Nijsse
4.0 out of 5 stars `The `longitude problem' was the thorniest dilemma of the 18th...
This is the story of John Harrison (1693-1776) a self-taught Yorkshire clockmaker, and his quest to claim the prize of £20,000 offered by the British Parliament in 1714 for solving... Read more
Published on March 6 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational and Entertaining
It's amazing how quickly we have advanced in technology. Longitude is now automatically calculated by GPS triangulating off of satellites. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2009 by Bart Breen
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic 40 year struggle!
Dava Sobel, like Simon Winchester or Canada's Pierre Berton, has clearly mastered the art of writing history in a form that is not only informative but, perhaps more important, is... Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2007 by Paul Weiss
4.0 out of 5 stars Longitude
I found this book to be a great read and quite informative. The topic is not something that I usually concern myself with, but when I came across the book awhile back, I figured... Read more
Published on Oct. 6 2004 by K Scheffler
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief but enjoyable
This slim volume tells the story of John Harrison who, although untrained, built four revolutionary clocks that changed how ships navigate at sea. Read more
Published on July 15 2004 by ShyGuy1966
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