Who would solve one of the most perplexing scientific problems of all time?
This dramatic picture-book biography brings to life – with illustrations that glow with wit and inspiration – the fascinating story of the quest to measure longitude. While the scientific establishment of the eighteenth century was certain that the answer lay in mapping the heavens, John Harrison, an obscure, uneducated clockmaker, dared to imagine a different solution: a seafaring clock. How Harrison held fast to his vision and dedicated his life to the creation of a small jewel of a timepiece that would change the world is a compelling story – as well as a memorable piece of history, science, and biography.
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6-In 1707, after nearly 2000 sailors and four ships were lost in one stormy night off England's coast, Parliament passed the Longitude Act guaranteeing 20,000 pounds sterling ($12 million today) for a method to navigate the seas with certitude. It was known that latitude could be measured, but to determine longitude-distance east or west of a point-a method had yet to be devised. In an engaging manner, Lasky relates the mad ideas that were considered, including barking dogs, tiptoeing, and a fire on deck before examining the inventive life and mind of a genius who solved the problem. John Harrison, a village carpenter and a self-taught polymath, elegantly reasoned that the answer lay in a timepiece itself. It would take more than 35 years and five prototypes before Harrison was satisfied, although his very first model barely lost a second on its first voyage. It would take a petition to the king before the inventor's solution won any prize money, and even then, he was refused the prize. Perhaps it is the combination of the elegance of his solution and the injustice of its resolution that has made Harrison's story so popular. With Hawkes's luminous full-color paintings on every page, its clear science, and its compelling social commentary, this title is not to be missed.
Dona Ratterree, New York City Public Schools
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Gr. 3-5. Executed in an oversize format, which allows plenty of space for Hawkes' dramatic pictures, this tells the story of John Harrison, an eighteenth-century clock maker who solved the problem of tracking longitude in shipboard navigation. The book begins with a shipwreck, dramatizing the fact that the longitude puzzle was not just a matter of academic or economic importance but a life-and-death question for those who sailed the seas. After introducing some of the more absurd solutions proposed for tracking longitude, the discussion turns to young John Harrison, who was 21 when the Longitude Prize was offered by the British Parliament. Lasky shows how, over the next half-century, Harrison worked to design and perfect a timepiece that would earn the prize. Not every child will understand the technical challenge discussed; however, the text makes absorbing reading both for its sidelights on history and for the personal drama portrayed. Harrison emerges as an admirable, if idiosyncratic, individual whose story is well worth telling. Atmospherically lit and richly colored, Hawkes' large-scale paintings are often striking in their overall effects and intriguing in their details. Unexpected elements of humor in both the historical narrative and the illustrations lighten what could have been a dry, weighty treatment in other hands. Teachers looking for books for units on inventors will find this a memorable choice for reading aloud. Carolyn Phelan
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