Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
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Book: Longitude

Author: Dava Sobel

Details: (c) 1995 Dava Sobel; Pub 1998 Fourth Estate (film tie-in); ISBN 1-84115-317-6

Verdict: Longitude is extremely accessible science history.

Reasons for reading it: I finally managed to persuade lethargic_man to come to Greenwich and this led to getting excited about the subject matter.

How it came into my hands: lethargic_man lent it to me.

Longitude is probably the most effortless non-fiction book I've ever read. I read it at the end of a long journey when I was really too tired to take much in, and still found it painlessly informative. It's very good at explaining the technical background where necessary, but the main focus is story, rather than science. I also enjoyed the way it put its main story into context by mentioning links with other famous people, events and scientific advances.

While Sobel does frame the story as a personal contest between Harrison and Maskelyne and the astronomy camp, I was pleasantly surprised by how un-Hollywood-ish the portrayal is. The narrative mostly sticks to facts and labels speculation as such. Even knowing that Harrison was of course vindicated by history, the story is fair to Maskelyne. Longitude manages to be memorable without being romanticized.

That said, I do find Sobel's writing style slightly annoying, but that's a minor criticism. It's very obvious that she was originally a journalist who moved into writing books, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Longitude is definitely to be recommended for geeky kids, though for an adult audience it's possibly a little over-simplified.
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