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    Re: Ted Gerrard's book
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2007 Nov 18, 14:19 -0000

    I've been asked for my opinions about Ted Gerrard's new book, "Astronomical 
    Minds". With a slight involvement, having been invited to scan an early 
    draft for technical mistakes as part of the error-checking process, it's not 
    possible to offer a completely independent review. But I'll be as 
    independent as I can, and you can take that for what it's worth.
    
    It covers that fertile century of scientific development from roughly 1650 
    to 1750, concentrating exclusively on English work, with the Royal Society 
    at its centre. Many well-known names are drawn in, Wren, Hooke, Newton, 
    Flamsteed, Halley, Shovell, Hadley, Harrison, and the book ends about the 
    time when Maskelyne and Cook would appear on scene. The story told by 
    Gerrard deals mainly with the quest for a way to find longitude at sea. It 
    acts as a useful counter to the one-sided picture that's been built up 
    before by Sobel, who concentrated on Harrison's watch-work. Here, the 
    timekeepers gets shorter shrift, and the emphasis is on astronomical 
    solutions. If there's a hero, it's Edmond Halley (and deservedly so). If a 
    villain, that's Shovell.
    
    The book is a riveting read. It's written in a racy style, and if you're an 
    academic historian, that may set your teeth on edge. It has the great 
    advantage of having been written by an experienced navigator, not by a 
    historian confined to a library. So Ted shows his great insight into the 
    practical problems that beset a navigator in finding his position at sea. He 
    allows himself much more freedom to speculate than a historian would, which 
    is fine by me. The weakness, in my view, is the way that plots and intrigues 
    are discovered under every bush. My own view of history is that cockups play 
    a larger part than conspiracies; but everyone to his own taste.
    
    Ted enjoys relating the interactions between these larger-than-life 
    characters, their feuds and their follies. But also, he has delved deeply 
    into the records, so this is far more than a rehash of the standard texts, 
    and becomes a real quest into the way that scientific knowledge unfolded. He 
    has used modern tools, such as sky simulation programs, which have allowed 
    him (and now allow us) to follow events such as Halley's star appulses with 
    the Moon. All this has enabled him to draw conclusions, such as Halley's use 
    of Newton's quadrant, which are new or unrecognised. His sources are well 
    referenced, but with occasional gaps.
    
    Any dislikes? Yes, two. He devotes space to discovering coded hidden 
    meanings in inscriptions and epitaphs. No doubt, a lot of that sort of thing 
    went on in the era, but it leaves me a bit cold. If you're a crossword 
    enthusiast, it may be for you. Or you can skip those bits, like I did. And 
    the other? I couldn't get on with his indexing scheme.
    
    The book costs �13.95 (about US$29), surface shipping worldwide included, 
    from-
    www.samosbooks.org
    
    George.
    
    contact George Huxtable at george---.u-net.com
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    
    
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