Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page


Dava Sobel

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 ( Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Fourth Estate

Published : 1996

Copyright : Dava Sobel 1995

ISBN-10 : PB 1-85702-571-7
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-85702-571-2

Publisher's Write-Up

Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest. The 'longitude problem' was the thorniest dilemma of the eighteenth century. Lacking the ability to measure longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea.

At the heart of Dava Sobel's fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and horology stands the figure of John Harrison, self-taught Yorkshire clockmaker, and his forty-year obsession with building the perfect timekeeper. Battling against the establishment, Harrison stood alone in pursuit of his solution and the £20,000 reward offered by Parliament.

'Rarely have I enjoyed a book as much as Dava Sobel's Longitude. She has an extraordinary gift of making difficult ideas clear.'

Patrick O'Brian, Daily Telegraph

'Dava Sobel has written a gem of a book... one of the best reads for the non-scientific mind to come along in many a moon.'

Financial Times

'A true-life thriller, jam-packed with political intrigue, international warfare, personal feuds and financial skullduggery.'

Francis Wheen, Daily Mail
Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Chrissi (011101) Rating (8/10)

Review by Chrissi
Rating 8/10
This book is one of those popular non-fictions that made a huge impact on the public consciousness. We English people like our underdogs, even when the over-dogs are those dastardly English as well, and Longitude provides dogged behaviour in spadefuls, (or should it be pooper-scoop- fulls?)

Longitude is the story of John Harrison, a carpenter turned clockmaker in the eighteenth century. At this point in history, sailors were able to tell their latitude (northly-southly) but not their longitude (easty-westy). This caused many deaths, not least when the English fleet grounded off the Scilly isles, and led the government to propose a prize to the man or men who could come up with a practical and usable method of finding Longitude.

John Harrison, basically designed and built a series of clocks to try to win the prize, he spent most of his adult life on this huge endeavour. Unfortunately he was up against the Board of Longitude whose members were, to say the least, biased.

This is a fabulous story, not because it is true, and it is, but because you would be hard pushed to come up with a better thriller if you were setting out to write one from scratch. It is beautifully written, and depending on which copy you get, you may have the illustrations that allow you to see and appreciate the endeavours of Mr Harrison. Nigel and I have copies of both in our collection, and I would recommend you to hold out for the illustrated version if you have a choice, but the other is excellent, too.

I will warn you however, reading either version of the book will make you go and see the real things in the museum at Greenwich Observatory - they are truly breathtaking objects.
Chrissi (1st November 2001)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends