Longitude

The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
by Dava Sobel | Walker Books © 1995 · 224 pages

This book is “The True Story” of how, as per the sub-title, “a Lone Genius Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.” (<- The “Longitude” problem!) It’s a wonderfully written book by Dava Sobel, who combines her background in both astronomy and psychology to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the science and history of time, longitude, and seafaring all wrapped up in one epic heroic quest. If you’re looking for a fun, quick-reading, mind-expanding escape from the normal self-development literature, I think you’ll enjoy this hero-tale as much as I did. Big Ideas we explore include: clocks and watches (and SUNDIALS!), time (as measured in heartbeats), longitude (vs. latitude), strengths (and weaknesses), encouraging a hero (how will you do so Today?!), Rome wasn’t built in a day (neither was anything awesome), elegant solutions (and the scientific establishment).


“English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping, devoted his life to this quest. He accomplished what [Isaac] Newton had feared was impossible: He invented a clock that would carry the true time from the home port, like an eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world.”

~ Dava Sobel from Longitude

I got this book after my friend Zac Zeitlin told me about it after watching a +1 called “Got Watch?” (Thanks, Zac!)

That +1 was inspired by this quote from the great book Make Time: In 1714, the British government offered a £20,000 prize (that’s $5 million in 2018 money), to anyone who could invent a portable clock that could be used aboard ships. It took nearly fifty years and dozens of prototypes until finally, in 1761, John Harrison created the first ‘chronometer.’ It was a technological marvel that changed the world even though it was barely portable—the clock had to be mounted in a special cabinet and stowed belowdecks for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the HMS Deptford.

This book is basically “The True Story” of how, as per the sub-title, “a Lone Genius Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.” (<- The “Longitude” problem!)

It’s a wonderfully written book by Dava Sobel, who combines her background in both astronomy and psychology to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the science and history of time, longitude, and seafaring all wrapped up in one epic heroic quest. If you’re looking for a fun, quick-reading, mind-expanding escape from the normal self-development literature, I think you’ll enjoy this hero-tale as much as I did. (Get a copy here.)

For now, I’m excited to share some wisdom from a few of my favorite Big Ideas we can apply to our lives Today, so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author

Authors

Dava Sobel

A former New York Times science reporter, and the author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and Letters to Father.