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Carry On, Mr Bowditch


: Jean Lee Latham

Summary: Nathaniel Bowditch was a genius who, denied formal education as a young boy, taught himself advanced mathematics and several languages before going on to adventures at sea and work at practical astronomy, which earned him an honorary degree from Harvard University. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a true story and a look at life in Salem, Massachusetts just after the Revolutionary War.  

1955 Newbery Medal Winner

Reading Level: Young Adult (12+)

Reviewed by: Bekah Tuggy (guest reviewer), Dec. 2005

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If all history were written like this, I would’ve liked the subject more as a child! While Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a fictionalized biography, it is regarded as highly accurate and won the 1955 Newbery medal.  I recently re-read it and was again amazed by the story of this slight, unassuming man who was a larger-than-life character.

Far from the normal rags-to-riches tale, Nathaniel Bowditch had to sail “by ash breeze”—that is, straining at the oars of life to get where he wanted to go. Indentured as a shopkeeper for nine years, he had to give up dreams of college and rely on evening study to satisfy his desire for learning. His drive for thorough scholarship led him to correct the 8,000 errors in the mathematical tables of the leading navigational guide of the day, thus saving countless lives of seamen around the world. He also came up with a simple way of determining latitude, a problem that had plagued sailors for centuries and, as if that wasn’t enough, he also educated several crews of sailors to do calculations far beyond the education of most captains.

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