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Has anyone read Longitude? It's the magnificent story of John Harrison, a self educated clockmaker who, single-handed, solved one of the greatest problems of the eighteenth century, fighting an arduous battle against the establishment as he did so.

There is something about a true story which grips the soul, and if the story features an obscure genius from whom the greatest scientists of the day attempt to steal ideas, then all the better.

It's well told, exciting and will teach you all sorts of things about the dear old Earth on which we sit. Watch out for the illustrated version.

Unmissable.

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I read it. Never thought some supposedly dull historic topic could be so good. I also loved the TV adaptation, probably because of the ever great Michael Gambon.

 

Sobel writes so well, and explains both science and history so clearly and readable. I skipped through her latest at the bookshop and I felt she is cashing in.

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Aaagh - how did I miss the TV adaptation? When was it on, and which channel?

 

Also, have you read The Map That Changed the World?

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I think it was BBC2 but in any case it is now out on DVD. DIrected by Charles Sturridge (Brideshead Revisited) and with Michael Gambon as Harrison and Jeremy Irons as the contemporary man who finds out about him. This was one of the best things ever done on TV, in my opinion.

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Momo posted a review on Sobel's book Gallileo's Daughter in this forum back in February, but I am surprised that no-one has started a thread on this book, Longitude...the one that started a whole new trend in the biographies of inventors/scientists.

Synopsis

from Amazon

Synopsis

The dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest: the search for the solution of how to calculate longitude and the unlikely triumph of an English genius. Anyone alive in the 18th century would have known that 'the longitude problem' was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day - and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution. The quest for a solution had occupied scientists and their patrons for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, Parliament upped the ante by offering a king's ransom (£20,000) to anyone whose method or device proved successful. Countless quacks weighed in with preposterous suggestions. The scientific establishment throughout Europe - from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton - had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, LONGITUDE is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and clockmaking.

It is a most fascinating and enjoyable book, giving science and history a human face. There are similarities in the disgraceful way Harrison was treated by The Board of Longitude to the treatment of Robert Fitzroy by the Admiralty (see thread on the novel This Thing Of Darkness)

 

Only Fools And Horses fans, will remember that it was a missing Harrison chronometer, acquired by Del and Rodney that netted them £6.2million at Sothebys in a 'Christmas Special' episode :D:D

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At the turn of the millenium my dad told me he was reading this fantastic book, Longitude which he would lend me when he'd finished. Unfortunately, a few days later he died with the book half read on his bedside cabinet. It still bugs me that he wasn't allowed to finish the book.

 

Anyways, I've intended to read the book ever since and now I finally have and it's just breath-taking. Dava Sobel writes with such a passion she turns what could easily be a boring subject in the wrong hands into a fascinating story.

 

It's a surprisingly easy read too - I guess that's because it's written with such clarity and we feel an aching empathy for the trials and tribulations of our hero John Harrison and the many unknown mariners who lost their colourful lives at sea.

 

I used to work in a very male dominated environment with a group of blokes who were not really that into reading, at least not in a big way However, this was a book which was passed around the office with much enthusiasm, so I knew it would be good.

 

The book is a great tribute to the inventiveness and perseverance which made (makes) our country such a wonderful place to be and is a reminder of the Great in our Great Britain.

 

Thoroughly recommended whether this is your usual subject matter or not.

 

(By the way - there are two threads for this book)

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  • Similar Content

    • By Momo
      Dava Sobel - Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love - 2000
      A very interesting book. Though I think the title is not entirely correct since this book is more about Galileo himself than about his daughter. 
      However, the life Galileo lead is portrayed very well. The book describes the time and the difficulties scientists had to deal with as well as the different circumstances in which people lived at the time. The choice women had was not great. They could either marry or enter a convent. They had to deal with a lot of illnesses, including the plague. The inhabitants of the franciscan convent had to endure a hard life, they almost starved themselves to death because of their poverty.
       
      I liked this book very much because I love reading about people in different times.
       
      (thread first started 11.09.06)
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