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Our Trusty Friend the Watch

Simon Schaffer, 31 October 1996

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time 
by Dava Sobel.
Fourth Estate, 184 pp., £12.99, August 1996, 1 85702 502 4
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... such witty vexations form little part of the resolutely Anglocentric ‘true story’ recounted by Dava Sobel. Rather, her hero, the ‘lone genius’ of her ostentatious subtitle, is John Harrison, a dour Yorkshire carpenter and village choirmaster who spent half a century from the early 1720s trying to make clocks capable of determining longitude and to ...

Pickering called

Rivka Galchen: ‘The Glass Universe’, 5 October 2017

The Glass Universe: The Hidden History of the Women Who Took the Measure of the Stars 
by Dava Sobel.
Fourth Estate, 336 pp., £16.99, January 2017, 978 0 00 754818 7
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... of inheritances, dramatic shifts in social class and the occasional total eclipse of the Sun. Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe: The Hidden History of the Women Who Took the Measure of the Stars begins in the late 19th century, following the story of the women (and a few men, too) who worked at the Harvard College Observatory computing the ...

Seventy Years in a Filthy Trade

Andrew O’Hagan: E.S. Turner, 15 October 1998

... Taking the Cure, a history of spa-going? Or Amazing Grace, a cool look at dukes? Before there was Dava Sobel, or Nick Hornby, or Fermat’s Last Theorem or Andy McNab, there was Mr Turner, and his series of second-hand typewriters. ‘I remember a van arriving out of the blue with a fine stock of near-prehistoric machines,’ he says. ‘My father very ...

Funny Water

Frank Kermode: Raban at Sea, 20 January 2000

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 435 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 330 34628 8
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... the taste of his young officers. The method will be familiar, at least in principle, to readers of Dava Sobel’s Longitude, in which John Harrison the clockmaker is the hero of the urgent but endlessly protracted quest for a method of accurately determining longitude (essential to expanding maritime power). Sobel casts ...

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