Book review: Earth’s magnetism in the age of sail

Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors



For many centuries, the source, behavior, and even the essential nature of geomagnetism were enigmatic. Despite this, the effect of geomagnetism was familiar, by imparting a directional preference on the magnetized needle of the compass and providing a useful, if somewhat annoyingly complicated, reference for navigators. Although the compass seems to have first been invented in China, it was the Europeans who made the most systematic early studies of magnetism, who made the first elaborate and practical usage of the compass, and who developed most of the early theories as to the cause of the compass needle’s north-seeking tendency. From the centuries of the Middle Ages, through the late 16th century of the Renaissance, to the 17th century of philosophical enlightenment and the 18th century of discovery, the subject of magnetism and, more specifically, geomagnetism, evolved from a hodgepodge of mystical beliefs into something that we can today recognize as the object of modern scientific pursuit. Those same centuries witnessed the great transoceanic sailing voyages undertaken by European nations for reasons of exploration, territorial claim, religious mission, and mercantile trade. Naturally, the navigator’s compass, and therefore geomagnetism, played an important role in these developments. This romantic intersection of science and history is the subject of Earth’s Magnetism in the Age of Sail, a pleasantly written and scholarly book by A.R.T. Jonkers.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Book review: Earth’s magnetism in the age of sail
Series title Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors
DOI 10.1016/j.pepi.2004.05.004
Volume 147
Issue 4
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 354
Last page 364
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