Longitude by Dava Sobel
Pages: 176 First published: 1995
The book: In the 1700s, ships plying the ocean in search of new territories, goods, and trade were quite literally “lost at sea,” as soon as land disappeared from view. Sailors had no effective means of measuring longitude so could not pinpoint where they were, a necessity when trying to determine how to get to their destination. At the time, successful navigating required a mix of astronomy, mathematics, map reading, experience, and a great deal of luck! In 1714, the British parliament offered a reward to anyone who discovered a proven methodology for measuring longitude. Whilst many scientists believed the answer would be found in astronomy, John Harrison believed a timepiece of some sort would be the answer. Sobel brings the story of the search for a way to measure longitude to life.
You might like it because: It’s an absolutely fascinating history. The search crisscrosses time, geographies, science, and politics. The lives of many well-known historical figures intersect the story.
What did other people say?
“This is a gem of a book.” – The New York Times
“Intricate and elegant…No novelist could improve on the elements of Dava Sobel’s Longitude.” – Newsweek
Awards & Recognition:
A New York Times bestseller
How quickly will you get into the book? Twelve pages in, Sobel describes an incident at sea in 1707 that underlines the necessity of finding a way to measure longitude and the very high stakes at risk were it not to be found. That’s the point where I was hooked.
You might not like it because: Clocks in themselves are a rather dry topic. Sobel set out to write an accessible history of a very complex story. For history buffs there might not be enough detail and for the casual reader, perhaps at times, too much.
What might you read next?
Take a slightly different historical direction and read In The Heart Of The Sea, the tragic true story of the whaling ship, The Essex, which was sunk by an enraged sperm whale.
Or segue into fiction and read a swashbuckling tale of adventure in Nelson’s navy, Master & Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
Pick up a book on another topic that has influenced trade routes and has an equally fascinating history: Salt, by Mark Kurlansky.