Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time - Dava Sobel (2005)



Because this book is intended as a popular account, not a scholarly study, I have avoided using footnotes or mentioning, in the body of the text, most of the names of the historians I have interviewed or the works I have read and relied on for my own writing. I owe them all many thanks.

The speakers at the Longitude Symposium (Harvard University, November 4-6, 1993) represent the world’s experts in their various subject matters, from horology to history of science, and they all contributed their knowledge to this slim volume. Will Andrewes comes first alphabetically and actually. Jonathan Betts, Curator of Horology at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, also gave generously of his time and ideas. In addition to their guidance before the fact, Andrewes and Betts both read the manuscript, and made many helpful suggestions to keep it technically correct.

I also wish to single out Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who collected the also-ran solutions to the longitude problem outlined in Chapters 5 and 6, and termed them “nutty.” Gingerich uncovered the facts of the “powder of sympathy” approach by obtaining a rare copy of the pamphlet Curious Enquiries from his friend John H. Stanley, Head of Special Collections at the Brown University Library.

Other symposium speakers, in alphabetical order, are Martin Burgess of the Harrison Research Group and the British Horological Institute; Catherine Cardinal, Curator of the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; Bruce Chandler of the City University of New York; George Daniels, former Master of The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers; H. Derek Howse of the Royal Navy (retired); Andrew L. King, clockmaker of Beckenham, Kent; David S. Landes, Coolidge Professor of History and Professor of Economics at Harvard; John H. Leopold, Assistant Keeper in the British Museum; Michael S. Mahoney of Princeton University; Willem Morzer Bruyns, Senior Curator of Navigation at the Rijksmuseum Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam; horological illustrator David M. Penney of London; precision watchmaker Anthony G. Randall of Sussex; Alan Neale Stimson of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich; Norman J. W. Thrower, Professor of Geography Emeritus at U.C.L.A.; author and historian A. J. Turner of Paris; and Albert Van Helden, Chairman of the History Department at Rice University.

Fred Powell, an antiquarian horologist in Middlebury, Vermont, helped by sending me several colorful clippings and reports, and by directing me to exhibits of antique navigational instruments.

For a few months at the outset, I maintained the insane idea that I could write this book without traveling to England and seeing the timekeepers firsthand. I owe a huge vote of thanks to my brother Stephen Sobel, D.D.S., for propelling me to London so I could stand on the prime meridian with my children, Zoë and Isaac, root around the Old Royal Observatory, and watch clocks at various museums.

I consulted many books in order to piece together my version of the longitude story. For helping me find hard-to-get and out-of-print editions, I want to thank Will Andrewes and his assistant Martha Richardson at Harvard; P. J. Rogers of Rogers and Turner booksellers, London and Paris; Sandra Cumming of the Royal Society in London; Eileen Doudna of the Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania; Anne Shallcross at the Time Museum, Rockford, Illinois; Burton Van Deusen of Bay View Books, East Hampton, New York; my dear friend Diane Ackerman, and my A+ niece Amanda Sobel. A complete bibliography follows.

Angle, Paul M. The American Reader. New York: Rand McNally, 1958.

Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. New York: Doubleday, 1972.

Barrow, Sir John. The Life of George Lord Anson. London: John Murray, 1839.

Bedini, Silvio A. The Pulse of Time: Galileo Galilei, the Determination of Longitude, and the Pendulum Clock. Firenze: Bibliotecca di Nuncius, 1991.

Betts, Jonathan. Harrison. London: National Maritime Museum, 1993.

Brown, Lloyd A. The Story of Maps. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.

Dutton, Benjamin. Navigation and Nautical Astronomy. Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1951.

Earnshaw, Thomas. Longitude: An Appeal to the Public. London: 1808; rpt. British Horological Institute, 1986.

Espinasse, Margaret. Robert Hooke. London: Heinemann, 1956.

Gould, Rupert T. John Harrison and His Timekeepers. London: National Maritime Museum, 1978. (Reprinted from The Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. XXI, No. 2, April 1935.)

—. The Marine Chronometer. London: J. D. Potter, 1923; rpt. Antique Collectors’ Club, 1989.

Heaps, Leo. Log of the Centurion. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Hobden, Heather, and Hobden, Mervyn. John Harrison and the Problem of Longitude. Lincoln, England: Cosmic Elk, 1988.

Howse, Derek. Nevil Maskelyne, The Seaman’s Astronomer. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Landes, David S. Revolution in Time. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Laycock, William. The Lost Science of John “Longitude” Harrison. Kent, England: Brant Wright, 1976.

Macey, Samuel L., ed. Encyclopedia of Time. New York: Garland, 1994.

May, W. E. “How the Chronometer Went to Sea,” in Antiquarian Horology, March 1976, pp. 638-63.

Mercer, Vaudrey. John Arnold and Son, Chronometer Makers, 1762-1843. London: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1972.

Miller, Russell. The East Indiamen. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life, 1980.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Moskowitz, Saul. “The Method of Lunar Distances and Technological Advance,” presented at the Institute of Navigation, New York, 1969.

Pack, S. W. C. Admiral Lord Anson. London: Cassell, 1960.

Quill, Humphrey. John Harrison, the Man Who Found Longitude. London: Baker, 1966.

—. John Harrison, Copley Medalist, and the £20,000 Longitude Prize. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1976.

Randall, Anthony G. The Technology of John Harrison’s Portable Timekeepers. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1989.

Vaughn, Denys, ed. The Royal Society and the Fourth Dimension: The History of Timekeeping. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1993.

Whittle, Eric S. The Inventor of the Marine Chronometer: John Harrison of Foulby. Wakefield, England: Wakefield Historical Publications, 1984.

Williams, J. E. D. From Sails to Satellites: The Origin and Development of Navigational Science. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Wood, Peter H. “La Salle: Discovery of a Lost Explorer,” in American Historical Review, Vol. 89 (1984) pp. 294-323.