Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

LATITUDE: The Astonishing Adventure that Shaped the World by Nicholas Crane book review

  • Written by  Elizabeth Wainwright
  • Published in Books
LATITUDE: The Astonishing Adventure that Shaped the World by Nicholas Crane book review
02 Jul
2021
by Nicholas Crane • Michael Joseph

The Earth is spherical, but not perfectly so. In 1735, 12 men set sail for equatorial South America, aiming to discover the Earth’s true shape by measuring the length on the ground of one degree of latitude. Was it elongated or flattened at the poles – prolate or oblate? It was the question of the time and mattered for making accurate maps and charts, for safer and more profitable ocean navigation, and for improved trading and political relationships.

The length of one degree of latitude was roughly 60 miles, but this survey extended to three degrees to improve accuracy. Of course, ‘arriving at this figure was simpler on paper than it was in execution,’ author Nicholas Crane (writer, broadcaster, explorer and former president of the RGS-IBG) tells us. It took ten years of exploration across hugely varied terrain to find that figure. The team comprised academicians, specialist surveyors, astronomers, cartographers, an artist, a botanist, a doctor, a technician and assistants. Some team members concentrated on ‘the cosmos of numbers’, while others ‘spun sentences from the world they could see’. After all, the ‘diffusion of knowledge needed narrators as well as numerators.’

Despite various divisions, egos, adversity and funding crises that threatened the mission at points, the Geodesic Mission to the equator showed how a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and countries could innovate, collaborate and work incrementally towards a result that would improve geography and contribute to scientific advancement. The mission also inspired a new audience, ‘eager to understand the transcendent power of the physical world’. For that, the artists were as essential as the scientists – although as team member Ulloa noted: ‘The most fertile imagination of a painter can never equal the magnificence of the rural landscapes here drawn by the pencil of Nature.’

Latitude is a thrilling story of courage, survival and science. It’s an extraordinary, visceral and vivid read.

Click here to purchase from the Geographical Bookshop via bookshop.org 

The Geographical Bookshop has been set up with BookShop UK, a new online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. Geographical will receive 10% from anything purchased using the links here. A matching 10% goes to BookShop UK’s pool of independent bookshops. By design, BookShop UK gives away over 75% of its profit margin to stores, publications, authors and others who make up the thriving, inspirational culture around books.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY PRINT MAGAZINE!
Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

 

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

Journalist, author and humanitarian Tara Kangarlou spent four years reporting…

Books

Jonathan Drori CBE FRGS is the author of the international…

Books

Explore the month's best nonfiction reads 

Books

by Jonathan Drori, illustrated by Lucille Clerc • Laurence King Publishing

Books

Your monthly dose of recommended nonfiction reads for June

Books

by Jemma Wadham • Allen Lane

Books

Read on for all of Geographical’s May book reviews