Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

by Jean Lee Latham, John O'Hara Cosgrave II (Illustrator)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Hardcover, 251 pages
Not in stock

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Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a sailor's world—Salem in the early days, when tall-masted ships from foreign ports crowded the wharves. But Nat didn't promise to have the makings of a sailor; he was too little. "Come a high wind at sea," Granny said, "they'd have to ballast his feet. Might as well educate him. He's quick at figures."

As it turned out, Nat didn't have a chance for much schooling. When he was twelve, he was apprenticed to a ship chandler. From then until he was twenty-one, he'd have to work from "can-see to can't-see" selling marline-spikes, belaying pins, and hemp rope, and keeping the books for the chandlery. He certainly was quick at figures. Though his work was cut out for him during the day, night after night in his attic room Nat filled notebooks with everything he could learn about ships and the sea, about mathematics and astronomy. He even learned Latin, a word at a time, so he could read Newton's Principia, and learn more about astronomy.

When his apprentice days were over, he went to sea. Shipowners knew his figuring would come in handy when captains bought and sold cargo. Even before his first voyage ended, Nat had astounded the captain with his ability to navigate; on his third voyage he baffled every captain in Manila Harbor by navigating his ship to port in the teeth of a monsoon. On his last voyage he performed the feat that sailors still talk about; he brought his ship into Salem Harbor in a pea-soup fog when he hadn't been able to check his position for three days.

Nat Bowditch mastered the secrets of navigation for himself; then he found that he could explain it all so clearly that he could teach others what he had discovered. Before he was thirty he had written The American Practical Navigator, that taught even uneducated seamen how to work problems in navigation. It was an amazing book when he wrote it. Now, more than 150 years later, it is still "the sailor's Bible" and a standard text in the U.S. Naval Academy.

Jean Lee Latham has drawn a clear and moving picture of the boy who had the stick-to-itiveness to master navigation in the days when men sailed by "log, lead and lookout."

The illustrations of John O'Hara Cosgrave II bring to life one of the most romantic periods of American history. His graphic black and white drawings of old Salem and the sailing vessels of the past show a sincere feeling for the time and are rich with historic detail.


Jean Lee Latham does an impressive amount of writing from a trailer in Florida. She is always ready to try anything new, and likes to do two things at a time. When she was told she couldn't possibly write an interesting biography about a "human calculating machine," she set out to do just that. She studied mathematics, astronomy. oceanography and seamanship beginning at the Junior High School level and "working up to Bowditch." Then she went to Boston and Salem to talk with descendants of Nathaniel Bowditch and do research on the geographical and maritime back ground of her story. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch further proves a contention of hers that a mathematician can be human and interesting.

Or perhaps it proves that a dramatist can make such a character interesting. Miss Latham's radio plays have appeared on all the major networks. Her currently published works include juvenile stories, fictionized biography, and plays.

from the dust jacket

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