By Dava Sobel
Published by Harper Collins (2005)
During the 1700’s, a problem faced the greatest minds in the world: how to determine longitude. It had been a conundrum for decades but in the 18th Century a determined bid – backed by a lottery-sized cash prize for those who cracked the dilemma – was, at last, being made.
Once out of sight of land thousands of sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been voyaging blind. As nations jockeyed to be the first to colonise, exploit and discover new territories, all of them had their best brains working on a solution.
In 1714, an Act of Parliament of Great Britain offered £20,000 to anyone whose method or device proved successful. The scientific establishment throughout Europe – from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton – had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its pursuit of a celestial answer. But one man, John Harrison, came up with a mechanical solution.
Anyone who can produce a thriller out of the scientific advances of yesteryear should be compiling the curriculum for all schoolchildren about to cram for their exams. Full of bravery, trickery, Eureka moments and lunatic claims, this book is a great read.