Longitude

Dava Sobel
Illustrated by John Harris
Preface by the author

A fascinating story of perilous seas and brilliant innovation, accompanied by wonderful colour photographs.

Throughout the great age of exploration, every sailor was quite literally lost at sea. Columbus could ‘sail the parallel’, that is, follow a line of latitude across the ocean until he bumped into the Americas. Yet he, and all other sailors, were unable to determine their longitude and thus chart their position. Navigational errors hugely increased the risk of shipwreck and long voyages, and for burgeoning trading empires solving the problem was not only worth a fortune, but a matter of life and death. It was therefore crucial that in 1714 the Longitude Act was established promising a prize of £20,000 to whoever could find a practicable solution. It was a huge sum of money and world-renowned inventors and scientists scrambled to compete for it. But the prize was eventually won, not by an astronomer royal, but by an uneducated carpenter, John Harrison, who devoted his life to creating a marine chronometer that would keep time at sea.

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