Study the History and Science of ‘Time and Navigation’

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Image: Smithsonian Books
Image: Smithsonian Books

I love diving into the areas of history that are not often focused on in college, and especially high school, classes. I love learning about social history, and about what it was really like to live during a certain time, or to work in a certain field. The intricacies of knowledge are many, and they are constantly changing. The expert knowledge required to work in professions that no longer exist can be lost over time if we don’t do our best to chronicle them.

Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There does just that. Put out by Smithsonian Books (perhaps my new favorite publisher), the book is a rich companion piece to a current exhibition of the same name at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. For those of us who aren’t close enough to Washington, D.C., to make the trek to see the exhibit in person, this book, and an online version of the exhibit, will satisfy our need for learning quite satisfactorily.

The book focuses closely on the history of navigation and how it is connected to time. It goes through how the two have been used together on the sea, in the air, and in space. Filled with the high quality photos, illustrations, and maps that one would expect from the Smithsonian, the book is broken up into seven chapters: Time and Place Connection, Navigating at Sea, Navigating in the Air, Navigating in Space, Inventing Satellite Navigation, Navigation for Everyone, and Where Are We Headed?

From the Time and Navigation exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. Image: Smithsonian
From the Time and Navigation exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. Image: Smithsonian

Much of navigation is intricately connected to being able to know what time it is reliably. Once the book establishes the connection between time and navigation, it dives right into how navigation was done on the open sea. When you’re on the open sea and you literally have no landmarks, time is your marker. You then need special tools to find your way around. Sextants. Astrolabes. Sea clocks. Really, really good vision.

The book then continues, addressing navigating by air and by space. You learn about several navigations gone wrong, and plenty of other case studies. Connections between astronomy and longitude. Important figures. Compasses. Dead reckoning. Radar. Guidance systems. GPS. Google Maps. Now navigation is in our own hands, with smartphones, satellite GPS devices, and more. Don’t lose sight of how big a deal that is, when Siri is directing you to your destination.

If you have ever wondered, “Just how did they do that?” in reference to navigation, this book (and the exhibits) have you covered. Find out where we started, and marvel at how far we’ve come.

Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There retails for $29.95 and would be the perfect gift for history buffs, boaters, pilots, armchair astronauts, and anyone else with a sense of wonder about how things work in this world.

Note: Something has gone wonky with the book’s illustration credits and index, though, and it’s in Lorem Ipsum-type text. But don’t let that stop you from getting a copy. The rest of the book is fine!

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes.

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