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    Re: Longitude Books
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2001 Feb 15, 3:36 PM

    Robert Block wrote-
    >I am sure this tread has come and gone, but refresh
    >me, if you will be so kind.  Which book on subject
    >of Longitude is recommended at this time.
    >I list the following two books for convenience,
    >there may be others.
    >Many thanks,
    >1-The Illustrated Longitude by Dava Sobel, William J. H. Andrewes (1995)
    >2-The Quest for Longitude : The Proceedings of the Longitude Symposium Harvard
    >University, Cambridge, Massachusetts November 4-6, 1993           by William J.
    >H. Andrewes (Editor)
    >Robert Block
    I have strong feelings on this matter, and I am going to let them show.
    In my opinion, judging by my 1995 hardback editionn, Sobel's work is a
    despicable little bookling. It leaves the reader understanding little more
    about determining longitude than when he started. Partly, this is because
    the author has not bothered to include any diagrams. Without diagrams,
    there isn't a hope of providing any satisfactory explanation. The only
    illustrations are provided for the purpose of decoration, to prettify the
    book rather than to illuminate the text.
    However, I have to qualify the above comments. I understand that in a later
    edition (which I have not seen) the author has sought to incorporate some
    much-needed illustrations. If these include explanatory diagrams that
    really illuminate the text, and if the text has been adapted to refer to
    those diagrams, then that could alter my judgment somewhat.
    However, that is not the only reason I dislike Sobel's book. She turns the
    search for longitude into a historical romance, with a Hero (Harrison) and
    a Villain (Maskelyne). Harrison can do no wrong: Maskelyne can do no right.
    And yet, it was Maskelyne's (and Meyer's) lunar-distance technique that the
    ordinary mariner continued to use, for the next 50 to 100 years. The cost
    of a chronometer could approach the value of his vessel. If he had to trust
    his life to longitude measured by chronometer, how could he be sure that it
    kept good time? A speck of grit could lead him into life-threatening
    danger. He might carry a second chronometer for comparison, but even then,
    a discrepancy between the two wouldn't inform him which of the two told the
    truth. For that, he needed a third chronometer. These instruments were
    So right up to the time of Joshua Slocum's circumnavigation, the lunar
    distance technique continued in (diminishing) use.
    In stating the above, I don't wish to belittle Harrison's achievement, not
    at all. Although few of his many innovations were incorporated in the
    chronometers that followed his own, Harrison showed that accurate
    timekeeping at sea could be achieved, when everyone else considered it
    "The Quest for Longitude" as a book of quite a different character. It
    stemmed, as did the Sobel book, from a 1993 symposium on Longitude at
    Harvard. It's written by a collection of authors, each an expert in his
    field, which lends great authority, but also means that the information is
    less coordinated than one would wish, with some material duplicated.
    It's thorough, detailed, authoritative, factual, sober, satisfying,
    well-balanced, beautifully illustrated, well-produced: everything that
    Sobel is not. Also rather expensive, and heavy to hold. The diagrams and
    photographs are a delight.
    Comparing these two books, then, is like comparing chalk and cheese. They
    inhabit different worlds. Readers of this list will enjoy reading the
    "Quest", I'm certain. As for the Sobel, I wonder how many share my own
    opinion. Perhaps some of you enjoyed it.
    There are other works which deal with the question of longitude, or aspects
    of it.
    I would recommend "Marine Chronometers" by Rupert Gould, the man who
    restored the four Harrison instruments. First published in 1923, several
    reprints by The Holland Pess, London, to at least 1978.
    "Greenwich Time and the Longitude" by Derek Howse, pub. National Maritime
    Museum, London, 1997. This has many attractive illustrations, though like
    other texts is short on good explanatory diagrams.
    There are useful chapters on the subject in "From Sails to Satellites", by
    J E D Williams, Oxford, 1992, though it could do with more and better
    A pamphlet entitled "Man is not lost" was produced jointly by the National
    Maritime Museum and the Royal Greenwich Observatory (HMSO 1968). It
    describes rather well the history of the Nautical Almanac and its relevance
    to navigation.
    For anyone that's looking at a complete history of navigation up to the
    invention of the chronometer, "The Haven-finding Art", by E G R Taylor
    (Hollis & Carter, London, 1971) provides a satisfying and thorough read,
    though the Longitude problem is treated only in the final chapter, and in
    words rather than with pictures.
    Those that can cope with a mathematical slant could try "A History of
    Nautical Astronomy", Charles H Carter, Hollis & Carter, London, 1968. This
    goes fully into the complex calculations that the mariner had to deal with
    in getting from an observation to a longitude. There were many tricks for
    simplifying the working, but even so the problems were formidable. Carter
    isn't easy going, but very comprehensive, and knows his trigonometry.
    There's stuff here that you are unlikely to find elsewhere.
    What books on this topic do other readers recommend?
    George Huxtable.
    George Huxtable, 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    Tel. 01865 820222 or (int.) +44 1865 820222.

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