Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Book 4 of 2012: Longitude

Continuing with my catch up of reading material for the year so far, book number four was Longitude by Dava Sobel. I picked up this one a while ago as part of a set from The Book People, comprising of ten books that are 'Stranger Than Fiction'. They're about people from all over the world in all sorts of situations; the first two being The Naked Civil Servant and Reading Lolita in Tehran which I read last year.

Longitude is the third in the series and is about John Harrison who invented a clock which could be used to determine Longitude on voyages across the sea. It's honestly not the sort of thing that I would normally pick up, I've not read a great deal of non-fiction in recent years and this was more of a non-fiction book than a historical novel.
I was honestly expecting something a little more 'fictionalised' than what this proved to be. It was interesting, but it was in all honesty just a sort of report on what happened and how. As interesting as it was, the blurb on the back had it packaged as some sort of thriller filled with intrigue and political rivalry, which it kind of did, but not what I had expected.

In the introduction to my copy it explained that this book came into being after the author wrote an article on the same topic for a magazine and was told that she should expand on it in a book. The book never really seemed to shake off the article-y feel. I would have expected to find this sort of a story in a Sunday paper supplement, rather than packaged between the pages of a paperback.

The author herself also pointed out that there were a number of people with the same names. It was tricky at times to keep track of them all and it wasn't helped by the way that the story seemed to jump back and forth between one time period and another. It made it terribly confusing at times.

One aspect of the book that I did enjoy was the little quotes at the chapter headings, each linked in some way to the subject of Longitude or time. They all fitted in quite neatly and I liked coming to the start of a chapter to see what the next quote would be.

Having read this one, I don't feel like I'll be rushing to search out any more books by the same author, it was an interesting read. Perhaps if I was more interested in sea travel, or clocks, or inventors it might have appealled to me a little more. As it is, I felt a bit cheated between the promise on the cover and the contents of the book.

It was a nice short, quick little read (which I was kind of grateful for) but I do think that it would make a great subject for an episode of Doctor Who...
"With his marine clocks, John Harrison tested the waters of space-time. He succeeded, against all odds, in using the fourth-temporal-dimension to link points on the three-dimensional globe. He wrested the world's whereabouts from the stars, and locked the secret in a pocket watch."
Page 175

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