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Old 06-19-2017, 10:19 PM   #1
WT Sharpe
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June 2017 Discussion: Longitude by Dava Sobel (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the June 2017 MobileRead Book Club selection, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. What did you think?
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Old 06-20-2017, 12:13 AM   #2
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Let me just start this by saying "THIS BOOK NEEDS PICTURES!" She talked about this gorgeous piece of mechanical craftmanship and art and how ornate the first one was and yet there were not any pictures in the book, at least not the book that I have.

Argh!!!
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Old 06-20-2017, 12:30 AM   #3
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They did show the clocks (or perhaps replicas) in the movie though.
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Old 06-20-2017, 01:12 AM   #4
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The original hardback did have pictures, if I remember correctly, and the movie, of course, has either the real clocks or very realistic replicas. (I've seen H1, H3 and H4, but I don't think H2 was on display when I was there. Or maybe it was H2 on display and H3 wasn't. Not sure.)

I'll have a lot more to say later, when I have a moment, but one thing was brought to mind by current events and the first chapter of the book. In 1707, 2,000 men lost their lives in a single catastrophe caused by an incorrectly calculated longitude. And last week, 79 (or more) people lost their lives in a fire in a London high rise. The first led to the Longitude Act, and one can only speculate about what the second will do, but it's sure to lead to changes. Not to minimize (not in ANY way), but most people who lived in the tower survived. Two people survived the shipwreck in 1707. Is it any wonder that Parliament was willing to pay a monstrous sum to find a solution?
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Old 06-20-2017, 01:19 AM   #5
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Let me just start this by saying "THIS BOOK NEEDS PICTURES!" She talked about this gorgeous piece of mechanical craftmanship and art and how ornate the first one was and yet there were not any pictures in the book, at least not the book that I have.

Argh!!!
Try this link to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
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Old 06-20-2017, 01:31 AM   #6
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Thank you! I did end up finding some decent pictures online but when I was reading it I didn't have internet access. I normally read while on the train so spotty coverage at best.
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Old 06-20-2017, 02:45 AM   #7
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The original hardback did have pictures, if I remember correctly, and the movie, of course, has either the real clocks or very realistic replicas. (I've seen H1, H3 and H4, but I don't think H2 was on display when I was there. Or maybe it was H2 on display and H3 wasn't. Not sure.)

I'll have a lot more to say later, when I have a moment, but one thing was brought to mind by current events and the first chapter of the book. In 1707, 2,000 men lost their lives in a single catastrophe caused by an incorrectly calculated longitude. And last week, 79 (or more) people lost their lives in a fire in a London high rise. The first led to the Longitude Act, and one can only speculate about what the second will do, but it's sure to lead to changes. Not to minimize (not in ANY way), but most people who lived in the tower survived. Two people survived the shipwreck in 1707. Is it any wonder that Parliament was willing to pay a monstrous sum to find a solution?
If memory serves one of the people that survived (the shipwreck) was the Admiral. While he was still in a weakened state though a local woman killed him for the ring on his finger, only confessing to the crime on her own deathbed.
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Old 06-20-2017, 02:48 AM   #8
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As I understand it H4 is never wound up anymore. It's considered so valuable that they don't want to risk ordinary wear and tear which would over vast stretches of time destroy the parts of the watch. Thanks for the link CRussel.
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:27 AM   #9
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I wasn't much of a fan of Longitude I found it focused more on the politics than the actual making of these clocks. It was not well written. It felt rather rushed.
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:33 AM   #10
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I wasn't much of a fan of Longitude I found it focused more on the politics than the actual making of these clocks. It was not well written. It felt rather rushed.
Certainly there was a lot of politics behind the story JSWolf. Just like today there were those who favored one position and those who favored the other side's position. Man doesn't change much I guess. In 'Longitude' it was the Astronomers vs. the Mechanicals (clockmakers) a few hundred yrs prior to that it was the Church vs. Scientists. Now days it's things like Politicians vs. Scientists about things like Global Warming. The topic of contention changes and so do the names of the factions but the propensity to argue for one side or the other stays the same. I think that's one of the pros of the book. It points out that what we think of as being the way things are today (i.e. political fighting) is actually a very old thing indeed.
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Old 06-20-2017, 12:03 PM   #11
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... I think that's one of the pros of the book. It points out that what we think of as being the way things are today (i.e. political fighting) is actually a very old thing indeed.
Agreed.

Personally, I very much enjoyed the book, when I read it ages ago just after it was first published. I though it well written, with a good balance between the technical/scientific/navigational issue and the political (read: elite "scientists" vs. working class genius) issues.
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Old 06-20-2017, 01:42 PM   #12
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I have somewhat qualified feelings about the book. I enjoyed it, it moved along, I'm now better informed, I'm glad to have read it. That said, it's a case of the defects of its virtues, for me. There wasn't enough "meat" in it. I recognize the difficulty in that not much is known about Harrison's life, but I'd have liked a more immersive experience in his times. Still most entertaining and informative; I think it was at its best when it laid out the crying need for a means to determine longitude.

I can only echo Dazrin, though, that it's a crime the ebook has no pictures!
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Old 06-20-2017, 03:15 PM   #13
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In my case it even made me $20.00 richer. I picked up a used copy in hard cover at a local used book store here in town and when I opened it there was a $20 bill lying in between two of the pages. I don't know if the previous owner had hidden a hoard n the book or if someone used the bill as a bookmark but it was a pleasant surprise either way.
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Old 06-20-2017, 08:50 PM   #14
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I listened to the audiobook while commuting. I glad I did as I learned a bit I wouldn't otherwise know about. Jon's comments in the other thread had me primed to be critical of the writing and I felt the story didn't flow well, but the interesting subject carried me through the book.
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Old 06-21-2017, 12:54 AM   #15
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Without getting political, one of the important points this book makes about science is the need to address what is, not what you expect/want it to be. The scientific method is about observing and addressing the results of your experiment, not about trying to twist the facts to fit a pre-conceived notion. I did NOT think it was about elite v. working class, though that certainly entered in to it, but much more about trying to shape the facts to fit the required result.
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