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    Re: Dava Sobel
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2006 Apr 30, 06:51 EDT

    Regarding George H's warnings that Sobel's  "Longitude" might send him into
    apoplectic fits, Alex E. wrote:
    "That's true.  I already returned the book, and you calmed me down about
    the  hanging"
    The hanging is probably legend. Much of the rest is probably  true. There are
    several different versions of the legend running around. One  version has the
    sailor who gets hanged smelling the burning kelp pits of Scilly  instead of
    keeping his own reckoning as in Sobel. These legends have been around  for a
    very long time, perhaps from the early 19th century. Sobel certainly  didn't
    invent any of it. I learned more or less the same story of Shovell's  fleet, and
    told with the same "morality play" style, when I first started  reading about
    lunars and longitude back in the late 1970s.
    As for the  rest of Sobel's book, it's really very good (especially the
    Illustrated  edition). It's a goldmine of interesting anecdotes in the history of
    navigation.  I would bet you cold hard cash (not very much, mind you ) that
    you  would learn literally dozens of things you never knew before by sitting
    down and  reading that book. And the prose is quite eloquent. As William F.
    Buckley put  it: "an exquisitely done narrative of the chronometer".
    Of course no book  is perfect, and she certainly plays up the "villain" role
    for Maskelyne (and  says so explicitly). That's a judgement call rather than a
    matter of fact. I  disagree with her judgement there, but her account of the
    historical facts is  mostly reliable, though not without exception. Of course,
    then again, my  training is in physics and astronomy. I've got more in common
    with Maskelyne  than Harrison. Most of the real lunars fans on this list
    probably have similar  biases. How many of the people who post frequently about
    lunars on this list are  also unusually well-versed in mathematics, or physics,
    or astronomy, or all  three??
    42.0N 87.7W, or 41.4N  72.1W.

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