88. Compass (Alan Gurney)

Sunday, April 19, 2009
I wasn't expecting much from this short book which has been sitting on my Amazon wishlist for the past 6 months or more. To be honest, I was pretty sure it would be dry, boring, and lull me to sleep like the gentle waves on a calm sea. Imagine my surprise then when I found I couldn't put it down.

The pages of Alan Gurney's Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation are filled with anecdotes about the quirky characters involved in the development of the compass over the years and the lengths they went to in order to develop an accurate compass. From the earliest days where sailors used a simple magnetized needle in a bowl of water to the intricate workings of modern computerized mapping systems, Gurney plots an easily navigable course for landlubbers and seasoned sailors alike.

The only downside is Gurney's failure to explain concepts such as magnetic deviation in more detail. He provides just enough information so that the rest of the book will not overwhelm the average reader but at only 276 pages, I would have appreciated a bit more detail on such an important topic central to the compass' development. Other than that, I'd certainly give Compass a thumbs up. I'm guessing it's not everyone's cup of tea but it certainly appealed to me.

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