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Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
I'd like to tell you my favorite book and two others on my list. I like all three because they are about context -- where we are in place and in time -- and how we got from there to here. My favorite is Dava Sobel's Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. This is a wonderful, witty, fascinating, at once highly technical and breathtakingly simple story of John Harrison, who figured out how to make a timepiece that would keep accurate time anywhere -- in any kind of weather -- aboard ships, a solution that allowed navigators to finally determine accurately their longitude and -- coupled with their existing ability to determine latitude -- to know where they were on the face of the earth. Sobel proves that technical writing can produce a riveting story -- and be funny and informative as well. I'm currently reading Clark Blaise's Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time. This is about how scientists and government officials in the 19th century finally came to agreement on standard time. Prior to that there were thousands upon thousands of local times, all pegged to the local solar noon. The drawing of travel schedules, with the advent of trains and steamboats that were far faster than wagon teams or sailing vessels, was simply a nightmare. Blaise's account of how this was resolved is a good read. Next on my list is John Noble Wilford's The Mapmakers: the Story of the Great Pioneers in Cartography -- from Antiquity to the Space Age. I don't know whether it'll be any good, but Wilford has won two Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on technical subjects, and I'm looking forward to getting into it.
Reviewed by Jack B., Associate Editor, The Charlotte Observer
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