Longitude is one of the greatest kinds of books – the kind that makes the reader passionate about something I’ve never heard of or previously had an interest in. Not only that, this entertaining non-fiction gem taught me a few major life lessons.
The book, as the title implies, is about longitude. Specifically, it is about how the world tried to figure out where in the world they were sailing, literally. Solutions ranged from the practical (reading the stars) to the mystical (using the pain of dogs). Some wanted to use time. John Harrison, a self-taught clockmaker, decided that a timekeeping mechanism which worked at sea could be the solution. He dedicated his entire life to that proposition. Along the way he faced all kinds of adversity, from limited resources all the way to a Parliament acting in direct opposition to him. Eventually, a monarch helped intervene to give Harrison’s solution the recognition his work undeniably deserved. The book reads more like a dramatic movie than a dry piece of history.
Some of the major takeaway for me from this book:
- Searching leads to unexpected results. The attempt to better understand longitude led to breakthroughs in many fields. Searching for truth can lead to unexpected and great finds, even if it’s not what you were looking for when you started.
- Never give up! Harrison and his son spent decades working on the longitude problem.
- Take your time. Despite opposition, copycats, and a race for prize money, Harrison refused to cut corners. He worked towards excellence.
- Appreciate craftsmanship. There’s a great line from Sobel towards the end of the book about how we take for granted necessities once we have them. It’s important to remember that our “necessities” such as electricity, roads, cars, the internet, navigation, etc., weren’t a given. We should appreciate the giants that came before us and actively work to educate and encourage the generations after us.
This is a fun book. I recommend it.