Pub. Date:
Bloomsbury USA
The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

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The Illustrated Longitude recounts in words and images the epic quest to solve the greatest scientific problem of the eighteenth and three prior centuries: determining how a captain could pinpoint his ship's location at sea. All too often throughout the ages of exploration, voyages ended in disaster when crew and cargo were either lost at sea or destroyed upon the rocks of an unexpected landfall. Thousands of lives and the fortunes of nations hung on a resolution to the longitude problem.

To encourage a solution, governments established prizes for anyone whose method or device proved successful. The largest reward of £20,000 - truly a king's ransom - was offered by Britain's Parliament in 1714. The scientific establishment - from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton - had been certain that a celestial answer would be found and invested untold effort in this pursuit. By contrast, John Harrison imagined and built the unimaginable: a clock that told perfect time at sea, known today as the chronometer. Harrison's trials and tribulations during his forty-year quest to win the prize are the culmination of this remarkable story.

The Illustrated Longitude brings a new and important dimension to Dava Sobel's celebrated story. It contains the entire original narrative of Longitude, redesigned to accompany 183 images chosen by William Andrewes - from portraints of every important figure in the story to maps and diagrams, scientifc instruments, and John Harrison's remarkable sea clocks themselves. Andrewes's elegant captions and sidebars on scientific and historical events tell their own story of longitude.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802775931
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 10/01/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.97(w) x 9.92(h) x 0.51(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Dava Sobel is the author of the best-sellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, and the editor and translator of Letters to Father. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

William J. H. Andrewes is a museum consultant specializing in the history of scientific instruments and time measurement. He is the editor of The Quest for Longitude and lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
tahoegirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Who knew that a story about the invention to measure longitude would be so exciting. This is the first book that I have read my Ms. Sobel and it will not be the last. She made something that could have been overly academic accessible and interesting. I had never heard of the longitude prize and I loved all the drama and backstabbing that was involved.The only negative was not about the story and the writing, but the edition I read. I read the illustrated version, and it was giant and difficult to hold while reading, some of the pictures also ruined the flow of the story in some places. If you are trying to decide which version to get, go with one of the smaller ones.
steve.clason on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent, widely-read history of the development of a method (basically a good watch) for measuring longitude -- a development which enabled sea-going exploration and contributed hugely to the way we in the European tradition appreciate the world. The illustrations add a lot to the narrative in this new-ish edition.
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
Christopher Columbus's most vital skill as a navigator was his ability to read tides, currents and winds. In his day sailors had tools to tell them how far north or south they were (latitude). What they could only approximate was how far east or west they were (longitude). If they knew the latitude of Havana, for example, they would sail south from Lisbon as fast as they could, find that parallel of latitude and head due west. They would also make use of towed "logs" to estimate their speed. Sailing masters were also alert to major currents such as the Gulf Stream. But they could and did make catastrophic errors. *** This blindness in calculating east-west location at sea, out of sight of land, and how it was finally overcome by the late 18th Century is the central topic of THE ILLUSTRATED LONGITUDE, co-authored by science writer Dava Sobel and historian William J. H. Andrewes. The two authors document and evaluate the works of dozens of renowned mathematicians and astronomers over the two preceding centuries. Those highly educated men created and used maps of stars and the solar system fleshed out by elaborate numerical tables to help seaman know where they were. Before the 1760s astronomers had created a reasonably accurate method that, when the weather was clear, permitted a trained observer to calculate his longitude in only four hours. This was reduced to 30 minutes by the book's "villain," Reverend Nevil Maskelyne. A great astronomer in his own right, Maskelyne was the last great champion of the astronomical school of longitude solvers. He was "villainous" only to his chief rivals: a father and son team creating timepieces as the decisive instruments for calculation of whereabouts at sea. *** Father was John Harrison. His son was William. In 1737 John Harrison displayed the world's first practical marine timekeeper. By 1815 there were 5,000 of them in use on the world's oceans. (p. 193). Both methods, star charts, etc. and timekeepers, remained in use. But chronometers were the clear winner, although astronomical observations and charts were still needed from time to time at sea to assure that the timepieces were staying accurate through storms and cannonades. Hundreds of astronomers had lost to one man, John Harrison, ably assisted over the decades by his son William. Astronomer Nevil Maskelyne stood on the shoulders of giants like Sir Isaac Newton. John Harrison was a carpenter who read Newton and taught himself to be a clockmaker. The heavenly school of learned, university-educated longitude solvers could easily understand each others' equations and physics. By contrast, John Harrison wrote possibly the most undecipherable English ever published. He was, moreover, secretive and reluctant to explain himself to potential rivals unless paid to do so. Yet the little man won! *** Even if you do not read a word of this book's narrative, sidebars, and chapter headings quoting Robert Burns and Lord Byron, you will nonetheless be drawn to its colorful portraits of principals, including amateur astronomer King George III, to its maps, photographs and drawings of clocks and other sea instruments and to its diagrams of inner workings of sea chronometers. *** The pace quickens throughout the 18th century. Names fly at you of astronomers and watchmakers. It would be easy to lose track of Maskelyne, Arnold, Earnshaw, Mudge and company unaided by their portraits from life. A grand book! -OOO-