Book Reviews of Longitude

Author: Dava Sobel
ISBN-13: 9780001053373
ISBN-10: 000105337X
Publication Date: 12/2/1996
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.

4.5 stars, based on 1 rating
Publisher: Harpercollins Pub Ltd
Book Type: Audio Cassette
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

31 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Longitude on + 67 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
An amazing story of the rivalries, politics and stubborness of so called educated men vs. those of talent and great skill. Clearly told, captivating.
reviewed Longitude on + 373 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I couldn't get into reads too much like a college textbook for my style.
reviewed Longitude on + 15 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
very interesting and thought provoking book
reviewed Longitude on + 27 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
fascinating, factual
reviewed Longitude on + 102 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I found it fascinating despite its small size. I didn't realize how difficult it was for sailors to know their location at sea before longitude could be accurately determined. And the persecution Harrison dealt with from the astrological community was completely unfair - but he really should have seen it coming. I'm glad that his work was recognized in his lifetime. And despite my lack of interest in mechanics of any kind I have a strong desire to see his sea clocks in the Guildhall in London ... I wonder if I'll ever get the chance.
reviewed Longitude on + 18 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Fascinating story about how an uneducated clockmaker tackled the top scientists of his day to solve the problem of determining the longitude of ships at sea.
reviewed Longitude on + 82 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Very interesting account of the invention of the chronometer.
reviewed Longitude on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Sobel tells the story of the 18th century version of the X prize; namely, inventing a method of accurately determining longitude. While I was drawn into the story line, Sobel carefully weaves in that time period's state of the art in ship navigation and clockmaking without overwhelming me with it. This is one of the very few books that I plan to re-read. If you like science, invention, history, or just good nonfiction storytelling, this books is for you.
reviewed Longitude on + 40 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Given such interesting circumstances and people, this book disappointed me. There was a lack of conflict and tension in the description of the people, politics, and activities around this fascinating subject. It would have been a much stronger book with more discussions of the science and engineering behind clock-making, astronomical navigation, and how scientists of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries measured distances and made other calculations affecting navigation.
reviewed Longitude on + 6 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
It's a fascinating true story, though I'm not impressed with Dava Sobel's writing. I didn't feel like she really understood the science.
reviewed Longitude on + 29 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Facsinating story
reviewed Longitude on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Glad I read this before the reviews or I might not have picked it up! I found this to be a facinating book about a subject I never gave any thought to. The copy I read I got thru, and most likely if it had not been a free book to me I might have passed thinking it would be dry and boring. This was not the case for me...I was intrigued by the history and people mentioned within. The idea of how long people devoted to the study of this was amazing and interesting. I felt it was well written, not too dry and not too much personal slant on it.
reviewed Longitude on + 18 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Man has sailed the seas for centuries without really knowing where they were. It was only in the late eighteenth century that the invention of the chronometer allowed sailors to pin point their location. This factual story of the development and refinement of this important instrument makes for an interesting read. If you like to sail, are interested in technical things or are just plain curious about the things around us you will find this and both interesting and informative.
reviewed Longitude on + 164 more book reviews
A friend of mine told me about this book - I never knew that longitude was beyond navigators' collective grasp as late as it was, or that it was monumentally harder to determine than latitude. It's fascinating.

Besides the central story of how a self-taught clock-maker, John Harrison, spent his lifetime perfecting a clock accurate and hardy enough to remember Greenwich time on long voyages through various temperatures, the rolling of the sea, and different humidities and barometric pressures, the book explains other ways to determine longitude using the skies (if you can get an accurate reading and the data exists to predict where the moon should be with respect to the sun for 3 hour periods for the length of your voyage, and it's not cloudy).

Navigators also were able to determine longitude, theoretically, by observing the moons of Jupiter, whose orbits were easier to predict, but were much harder to see on a rocking boat.

So Galileo, who discovered the Jovian moons, gets a couple of cool points. In fact, the Jupiter moon method (and *every* method is about figuring out what time it is in Greenwich right now - if we know when a person in Greenwich would see a moon of Jupiter go behind the planet, we know how far ahead or behind Greenwich we are), while so impractical on ships that navigators on ships had to wait for a good clock, although that took 150 years after the invention of Galileo's method), was great on land, and it's the cause of maps suddenly looking accurate and not grossly distorted east/west-wise just after 1600.

Isaac Newton also makes a special appearance (you know, predicting *our* moon's orbit well).

Oh yeah - you also have to see the wonderful clocks this guy made (there are color plates in some editions, or google "John Harrison H1")- they're steampunk perfection.

Anyway, I hope I've conveyed the enthusiasm I feel for this short, but just-right-length, science history.
reviewed Longitude on + 5 more book reviews
The book starts off dry and a bit pedantic. Then it becomes a treasure trove of interesting history, filled with fascinating tidbits and intriguing anecdotes.
reviewed Longitude on + 15 more book reviews
Travel during the Age of Exploration was a risky venture. Most sailors had the ability to figure out latitude by the day, the sun or guide stars. Longitude, however, was another story. Despite attempts by astronomers such as Galileo, Cassini, Huygens, Newton, and Halley, difficulty in finding an accurate method of determining longitude persisted for over four centuries. Longitude is the story of John Harrison, an 18th century English clockmaker who devoted his life to developing a chronometer accurate enough to be used to determine longitude at sea.

So, the story is fascinating--or it would be if the book wasn't a mess. Sobel presents Longitude as a work of historical non-fiction for a general audience, but fails to fully leave behind an academic style. Apparently she thinks writing for a general audience means avoiding discussions of science beyond the surface level, and tossing organization out the window. Yet, for some reason, she hangs on to the academic standard of presenting the entirety of her ideas right away. Which means, after reading the first chapter, later chapters feel like little more than repetition.

Honestly, I wanted to like this book. But, less than 50 pages in I was bored. I hear there's a NOVA episode and a Jeremy Irons movie--I'd recommend watching one of those over reading the book. Or, just read the first chapter.
reviewed Longitude on + 102 more book reviews
I found it fascinating despite its small size. I didn't realize how difficult it was for sailors to know their location at sea before longitude could be accurately determined. And the persecution Harrison dealt with from the astrological community was completely unfair - but he really should have seen it coming. I'm glad that his work was recognized in his lifetime. And despite my lack of interest in mechanics of any kind I have a strong desire to see his sea clocks in the Guildhall in London ... I wonder if I'll ever get the chance.
reviewed Longitude on + 8 more book reviews
I am not a scientific minded person. But I do love history so this really fascinated me only because I wanted to know why it was so important. This is a great tale of a man on a mission who would not give up or give in to any one. This guy was a genius. Read it to just enjoy his story or to learn the science behind know longitude in an age when clocks were the only high tech devices around.
reviewed Longitude on + 404 more book reviews
The author takes a complicated subject and delivers it in a highly readable, understandable way. Very nice book.

"Beautiful writing, surprising history all done with brevity and accuracy. How sailors were able to find their way at sea, and what would happen when they didn't.
How ego blocked recognition of the genius who did it. Here is a wonderful little book for your next 3-4 hour airplane travel. We can anticipate more fine writing by Dava Sobel." amazon review
reviewed Longitude on + 26 more book reviews
This is a great story about a very important invention. The struggle that this man, John Harrison, experienced most of his life to achieve his goal is daunting and most of us would have given up.
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History. * * ½*. 1700s Europe. The constant loss of sailors and ships prompts the European government to offer prize money to the person who can invent a system for measuring LONGITUDE. Now the race is on as scientists and laymen concoct measuring systems and tools in search of the big prize.

Although not a page turner, it is an interesting book for the math and science geek in us because it also relates how this rush led to other inventions, measurements and traditions that continue today.
reviewed Longitude on + 35 more book reviews
Interesting, well presented.
reviewed Longitude on + 207 more book reviews
Dava Sobel writes with a passion for the subject that makes this book a fascinating read. She explains the technical subject matter in layman's terms, without over simplifying, and breathes life into the characters involved. I loved this little book!
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Very interesting discussion of a problem whose solution determined the future of the British Empire.
reviewed Longitude on + 92 more book reviews
Lacking the aility to determine their longitude, sailors were literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Ships ran aground on rocky shores; those traveling well-known routes were easy prey to pirates.

In 1714, England's Parliament offered a huge reward to anyone whose method of measuring longitude could be proven successful. The brilliant scientific minds of the time, from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton, were certain the answer lay in the heavens. But one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution: a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something unheard of at that time. The race to win the prize was on!

This "scientific" book is highly readable, not to mention enlightening, for the layperson. Recommended to all.
reviewed Longitude on + 4 more book reviews
A great read for those who like to think back to the time when ships headed out for sea and were never sure when they would run into dry land again, without the ability to accurately predict where in the world they were east to west. Finally made me understand why they call degrees of longitude "minutes" and "seconds".
reviewed Longitude on + 25 more book reviews
Excellent story - well told. A tale of intrigue as it is of science. A must for anyone who wondered "how did that happen".
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My son (13) enjoyed the story.
reviewed Longitude on + 18 more book reviews
John Harrison dared to imagine a clock that would keep precise time at sea.
reviewed Longitude on + 1233 more book reviews
An interesting, although at times confusing, read. While the illustrations add much to the book, the details in the illustrations are not always clear. But then they were, in the case of notes, written hundreds of years ago and in a different style of writing.

What really annoyed me were the side notes accompanying the illustrations. These were in italics, which made it difficult for my old eyes to focus on.
reviewed Longitude on + 68 more book reviews
A very interesting true story. Sobel does a wonderful job of making scientific information comprehensible and the characters and their struggles are very engaging.