The True Story of the Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
Publication Date: March 1996
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An exciting scientific adventure from the days of wooden ships and iron men, Longitude is full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd. It is also a captivating brief history of astronomy, navigation and clockmaking.
For centuries, the determination of longitude was thought to be an impossibility. 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.
The quest for a solution had occupied scientists for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, England's Parliament upped the ante by offering a king's ransom -- £20,000, or about $12,000,000 in today's currency -- to anyone whose method or device proved successful. Countless quacks weighed in with preposterous suggestions.
Then one man -- an unschooled woodworker named John Harrison -- 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.
Dava Sobel is an award-winning former science reporter for the New York Times and writes frequently about science for several magazines, including Audubon, Discover, Life, and Omni. She lives in East Hampton, New York.
Jane Jacobs has appeared on screen in the film Capitivity and in the television shows Everybody Hates Chris, The Gilmore Girls, The New Dragnet, and The Munsters Today. Her theater credits include roles in Macbeth, Enter Singing, Kennedy's Children, and Once Upon a Mattress. She has also lent her voice to the video games Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle.
Jane narrated the AudioFile Earphones Award-winning audiobook Longitude, written by Dave Sobel and published by Macmillan Audio, as well as Olen Steinhauer's Liberation Movements and two novels by Eleanor Estes: The Curious Adventures of Jimmy McGee and The Witch Family. Of Longitude, AudioFile magazine said, "...Sobel’s wit, coupled with Jane Jacobs’s lovely, liquid tones and dramatic abilities, takes this fascinating topic and makes it an entertaining and erudite production. Even occasionally erratic levels of audio cannot diminish the joy of such fine listening."
"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 just such a writer has been found in Dava Sobel." -- Patrick O'Brian, author of The Commodore and the Audrey/Maturin naval series
"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
"An exquisitely done narrative of the chronometer. It is a wonderful and engrossing achievement." -- William F. Buckley, Jr.