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by Joan Marie Galat, illustrated by Wes Lowe

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4556-1637-4
Publisher: Pelican

A glancing shot at the story of inventing a watch to compute longitude aboard the great sailing ships.

Only 300 years ago it was impossible to accurately compute longitude. As Galat clearly explains, one could find latitude using a sextant and direction using a compass, but longitude required a clock. Actually, two clocks: one telling the time at the prime meridian and another telling the shipboard time. The British government’s Board of Longitude offered a reward equal to $3 million in today’s currency to the inventor who could build such a clock, one that could thwart the pendulum problem and the degradation of a timepiece at the mercy of seawater spray. Enter John Harrison, carpenter and clockmaker, who toiled for over 40 years to make just such a clock and who got shafted by the board for his troubles (the king finally got him paid). Galat tells the story with verve and historical accuracy to a point, but she falls short of explaining how Harrison’s clock worked, how it overcame the conditions and how captains—this one looking suspiciously like Russell Crowe—knew when to set the clock forward or backward, all of which are the crux of the tale. Lowe’s artwork is handsome, though his tendency to place precise objects in the foreground against blurry backgrounds is not altogether successful (perhaps he is reaching for a metaphor).

A hearty tale, but the workings of longitude’s conqueror remain elusive. (Informational picture book. 8-12)