On a cold, foggy night in October of 1707, four British warships ran aground near the Scillies Isles off the southwest tip of England. Like cars caroming into a highway pileup, each ship sunk before the others had time to change course. Two men made it to shore. Two thousand lost their lives. And this massive loss of blood and treasure was not unusual. In these days of imperfect navigation, ships frequently wandered off course. But this was, for the British government, the final straw. Seven years later they offered 10,000 pounds (some $12 million in today's dollars) to anyone who could discover a way to determine longitude while at sea.
This month's 1book140 selection--Dava Sobel's Longitude: The Story of the Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Mystery of His Time--tells the story of the unknown clockmaker who eventually claimed that prize. Sobel's publisher, Bloomsbury, has kindly offered a somewhat more humble prize to 1book140 participants: Five limited-edition sets of both Longitude and Sobel's latest book, A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.
When we tried to decide how to award these fine books, we naturally fell back upon our month's theme. And so we inaugurating our own version of the Longitude Prize. Tell us what problem is so badly in need of fixing that whoever solves it should be rewarded a significant monetary prize. Global warming? Cancer? Autism? Or perhaps money in politics? We will accept nominations via both Twitter and comments to this post. At the end of the month we'll choose ten suggestions and hold a vote. The top five will receive the books.