The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
Walker & Company, Paperback, 9780802715296, 184pp.
Publication Date: October 30, 2007
Anyone alive in the eighteenth 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. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. "Longitude" is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and of Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world.
Her most unforgettable assignment at the "Times" required her to live 25 days as a research subject in the chronophysiology lab at Montefiore Hospital, where the boarded-up windows and specially trained technicians kept her from knowing whether it was day outside or night.
Her work has won recognition from the National Science Board, which gave her its 2001 Individual Public Service Award "for fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the general public." She also received the 2004 Harrison Medal from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in England and the 2008 Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for "increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy."
A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, she has taught several seminars in science writing at the university level, and held a two-year residency at Smith College in fall 2013.
Praise for Longitude:“This is a gem of a book.”—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times “A simple tale, brilliantly told.”—Washington Post Book World “As much a tale of intrigue as it is of science…A book full of gems for anyone interested in history, geography, astronomy, navigation, clockmaking, and—not the least—plain old human ambition and greed.” —Philadelphia Inquirer “Only someone with Dava Sobel’s unusual background in both astronomy and psychology could have written it. Longitude is a wonderful story, wonderfully told.”—Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses “The marine chronometer is a glorious and fascinating object, but it is not a simple one, and its explanation calls for a writer as skilled with words as the watchmakers were with their tools; happily such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel.”—Patrick O’Brian, author of The Commodore and the Aubrey/Maturin series