John Harrison (1693 - 1776), with continued work from his son William, 18th-century scientists and clockmakers, solved one of the most perplexing problems of history--determining east-west location at sea (longitude). This was no obscure, curious difficulty--without longitude, ships often found themselves so far off course that sailors would starve or die of scurvy before they could reach port. When a nationally-sponsored contest offered a hefty cash prize to the person who could develop a method to accurately determine longitude, the race was on. In the end, the battle of accuracy--and wills--fought between Harrison and arch-rival Maskelyne was ruthless and dramatic, worthy of a Hollywood feature film.
from Therese Littleton
The book, Longitude, by Dava Sobel, is one of the most fascinating books recently published.