Review of ‘Finding Longitude – How Ships, Clocks and Stars Helped Solve The Longitude Problem’ By Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt

Cover Art for 'Finding Longitude'
Cover Art for ‘Finding Longitude’

In the current pandemic the Scientific Tourist is restricted to armchair travel, but can at least anticipate future trips and reflect on previous travels.  This book is excellent as preparation for visiting Greenwich, and reading about the voyages of those truly great scientific tourists who explored and mapped our world, at least partly in the name of science, is both inspiring and informative.

For anyone who prefers actual scholarship to populist dramatic narrative, then this is the book that Dava Sobel’s ‘Longitude’ should have been.  Written by experts at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich for a major 2014 exhibition commemorating the tercentenary of the establishment of the Longitude Prize, it combines both historical and scientific perspective with the detailed, objective accuracy any serious student (and Scientific Tourist) would expect.  It is therefore much wider in scope than Sobel’s book.

The importance of understanding the story and events surrounding the search for a means of discovering the longitude at sea cannot be exaggerated.  It goes far beyond the particular problem.  This was a salient moment in the history of science, perhaps as significant as any other since.  It set the stage for scientific progress until this day. And not just science; this was a problem of enormous historical importance upon which the future course of world history depended.  It deserves the most careful and profound examination for what it can tell us about scientific progress and its civilisational context. 

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