Quarter Life Crisis

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Longitude

205 words on

Book cover
I also finished reading Longitude by Dava Sobel that I had borrowed from my flatmate Christine. It is an apparently best-selling scientific-historical novel on the problem of determining longitude.

Reading this book wasn't only a good excuse to (temporarily) learn to actually know which of longitude and latitude is which, but I found the topic quite interesting: While it is easy to find out the latitude of wherever you are by looking at the sun (even the ancient Egyptians used a similar method to determine the radius of the earth with a surprising precision - in fact when seeing a short film about this in the wonderful collection of mathematical videos from the Video Math Festival I realised that this is closely related to the notion of curvature in the classical geometry of surfaces), the longitude is rather hard to determine, particularly if you don't have GPS or an accurate watch.

The book nicely presents the problem and why it was vital to sailors a few centuries ago. But then it goes the disappointing way of most historical novels, reiterating the same points over and over and focusing very much on the protagonist, watchmaker John Harrison and his life. That was a bit boring.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

December 10, 2002, 2:39

Tagged as book, dava sobel, history, science, travel.

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