Book Review-‘Maskelyne Astronomer Royal’ by R. Higgitt (ed.)

By Nicolàs de Hilster, published November 2020


A scientific self-inflicted injury is the best way to describe how the reputation of the fifth Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne (1732–1811), has been portrayed since the last century. Thanks to Dava Sobel’s 1995 book Longitude: The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time and the forthcoming film Longitude, Maskelyne became known among the general public for his role in improving and promoting the lunar distance method of finding longitude, and as the ‘clockmaker’s “academic” bugbear’. That clockmaker was John Harrison, the first to create a clock accurate enough to be used in finding longitude by the time difference method, a device that later would be named the marine chronometer. In 1765 Maskelyne became a ‘Commissioner of Longitude’ at the Board of Longitude, a government body that was founded in 1714 to encourage innovators to solve the longitude-finding problem for navigators. For this the board administered prizes up to £20,000 for a method that could determine longitude at sea…

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C) | Other (Eighteenth C)
Subjects include: Biography | Science & Exploration

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