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    Re: Nevil Maskelyne.
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2004 Jul 16, 20:39 +0000

    Frank Reed wrote:
    > Dava Sobel's "Longitude" is an EXCELLENT book
    That is a common opinion and one that Frank is fully free to hold.
    However, I don't think I am alone in thinking that it is a very poor
    book -- though I dare say that I am in a minority among those who have
    read the thing. I guess we must all just accept that individual
    judgements of literary works can differ.
    Frank also wrote:
    > Nonetheless, this is the
    > very section of the book where her one big mistake is at its worst. She
    > mocks those who were suspicious of Harrison's "little ticking thing in a
    > box". Of course, they were suspicious! Failing to see that placing one's
    > trust in a "black box" was a radical idea in the 18th century is the
    > number one failing of this otherwise excellent book.
    There we are closer to agreement. The notion that human problems could
    be solved by novel machines, which has become so commonplace since
    Harrison's time, must have seemed not so much radical as truly wacko to
    many of his contemporaries. Missing that perspective was a major defect
    of Sobel's book.
    But, to me, that was more a surface symptom than the underlying failing.
    Harrison's development of the chronometer makes for a wonderful tale of
    the success of the little guy, the triumph of the visionary, the advent
    of advanced technology and more. That tale has been told a number of
    times (the Harrison chronometers are, after all, prized items in the
    collection of the NMM in Greenwich and the museum has not been reticent
    in publicizing their story) but there was ample scope for re-telling it
    in a format that was more accessible to the general reader. Instead,
    Sobel concocted a falsified (or at least much exaggerated) story of a
    conflict between good and evil, in the persons of Harrison and
    Maskelyne. That can only have further obscured the (far more exciting)
    true story for most people.
    To make Maskelyne out as the bad guy, Sobel of course had to pass over
    the stunning advance in thinking that Harrison represented, lest "good
    vs. evil" come down to "risky strategy vs. safe bet", just as she had to
    ignore the awkward truth that it was Maskelyne who actually produced the
    workable solution for the generation following those two great men. But
    the real mistake was in insisting on a good vs. evil plot instead of
    telling the story of what really happened.
    That's my opinion anyway,
    Trevor Kenchington
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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