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    Reading Recap: Book Summaries

    The Celestial Navigator: Exploring the Universe and Unraveling the Stars with Dava Sobel

    29. Dezember 2023

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    Longitude book summary

    Longitude is a historical non-fiction book written by Dava Sobel. The book narrates the tale of John Harrison, an 18th-century English clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, a device that solved the problem of measuring longitude at sea.

    The book begins by examining the problem of determining longitude at sea and the devastating consequences of its absence. Navigation, particularly on long sea voyages, depended on accurately knowing the ship's position in both latitude and longitude. While latitude could be measured relatively easily using the position of celestial bodies, longitude was much more challenging.

    John Harrison, a self-taught clockmaker, became obsessed with this problem and believed that accurate timekeeping was the key to solving it. He dedicated his life to building the perfect timepiece that could keep accurate time at sea. Harrison faced various obstacles, including skepticism from the scientific community and the established navigation methods of the time, which relied on celestial observations and complex calculations.

    The book details Harrison's numerous attempts to build a reliable marine chronometer. He developed innovative designs and mechanisms, including using a balance wheel instead of a pendulum, which was more suitable for shipboard use. These chronometers were put through rigorous tests, including long sea voyages, and their performance was compared to astronomical observations taken at the same time.

    Harrison faced challenges from rival scientists and the Board of Longitude, a government body established to solve the longitude problem. However, with the support of influential figures such as King George III, Harrison's work eventually gained recognition and he was awarded financial grants for his achievements.

    The book illustrates the significant impact of Harrison's invention on navigation and its subsequent influence on global exploration and trade. The marine chronometer revolutionized navigation, allowing sailors to accurately determine their longitude and greatly reducing the risks of getting lost at sea.

    Longitude recounts the story of a determined and brilliant man who overcame numerous obstacles to solve a fundamental problem of his time. Sobel's book not only sheds light on the scientific and technological aspects of Harrison's achievement but also highlights the politics and personalities involved in the quest for determining longitude.

    Quotes of Longitude book

    1. "Anyone lacking a watch can always be certain of the time by consulting a church clock, or he might ask an acquaintance to write down the precise time according to the clock in his or her bedroom. This procedure is highly impractical for those at sea who do not have access to a fixed clock of any kind, let alone a wealthy fashionista's clock-room."

    2. "To know the precise position in which the ship was at any given moment, it was necessary to have the precise GMT time. But the only way to determine GMT at sea was with an accurate timekeeper that would not be affected by the motion of the ship, temperature changes, or extreme weather conditions."

    3. "John Harrison's pursuit of a solution to the longitude problem was nothing short of persistent and obsessive. He was driven by an unyielding determination to create a timekeeper that would not only keep time accurately at sea but also withstand the harsh conditions of the open ocean."

    4. "The Board of Longitude, established by the British government, offered a substantial reward for anyone who could devise a practical solution to the longitude problem. This competition fueled a race among inventors and astronomers to find a way to accurately determine longitude."

    5. "Longitude is a story of human triumph, of one man's indomitable spirit and unwavering belief in his own ability. It is a testament to the power of science and innovation to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges."

    6. "Harrison's marine chronometers revolutionized navigation and had a profound impact on the world. They enabled sailors to accurately determine their position at sea, dramatically reducing the risks of shipwrecks and improving trade and exploration."

    7. "Longitude is not just about a scientific problem; it is also about the people behind the discovery. Harrison's struggle against bureaucracy and prejudice, and his ultimate success, is a testament to the power of human perseverance and ingenuity."

    8. "The story of longitude is a reminder that scientific advancements often come from ordinary individuals, driven by a passion for knowledge and a desire to make the world a better place."

    9. "The quest for longitude was a race against time, with ships and lives at stake. John Harrison's dedication and ingenuity allowed him to triumph over the challenge and change the world of navigation forever."

    10. "Longitude is a captivating tale that brings to life the brilliant mind and relentless pursuit of John Harrison, and sheds light on a remarkable period in the history of science and exploration."

    Books like Longitude book

    1. "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time" by Dava Sobel - This is the book from which the movie "Longitude" was adapted. It provides a detailed and engaging account of John Harrison's invention of the marine chronometer, which revolutionized navigation.

    2. "The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon" by Robert Whitaker - This non-fiction book explores the life and efforts of French explorer Charles Marie de La Condamine, who was tasked with measuring the Earth's circumference in the Amazon jungle in the 18th century.

    3. "Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love" by Dava Sobel - While not directly related to longitude, this book delves into the life and work of Galileo Galilei, a groundbreaking scientist who faced opposition from the church due to his discoveries. It presents a fascinating story of the intersection of science, religion, and personal relationships.

    4. "The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World" by Edward Dolnick - This book explores the scientific revolution in the 17th century and the role of the Royal Society in promoting and advancing scientific knowledge. It discusses various scientific advancements during that time, including the development of accurate timekeeping tools.

    5. "The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World" by Andrea Wulf - This biography focuses on the life and achievements of Alexander von Humboldt, a polymath and naturalist in the early 19th century. He was known for his extensive travels and research, which contributed to our understanding of nature and the interconnectedness of the world.

    6. "Longitude by Wire: Finding North America" by Richard Stachurski - This book explores the history and development of telegraphy in North America and its implications for navigation and time measurement. It delves into how the telegraph system contributed to the determination of longitudinal coordinates across the continent.

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