You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves. By Hiawatha Bray. New York: Basic Books, 2014. Notes. Index. Pp. xiv, 258. $27.99 Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-465-03285-3
Knowing one's position relative to friend and foe, how to get from point A to point B, and the synchronized timing of events, always have been important to the success of military operations. In our modern workaday world, positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) also have become necessary for efficiently conducting business and personal affairs. While relatively few users of the Global Positioning System (GPS) might know that the Department of Defense developed it and Air Force Space Command operates it, millions of people around the world take its availability for granted. For nearly two decades, GPS has been acknowledged as a global utility that provides extremely accurate, free PNT to anyone with a properly calibrated receiver.
In You Are Here, Bray takes readers on a skillfully crafted, delightfully readable historical odyssey. Beginning with the ancient skill of celestial navigation, this technology reporter for the Boston Globe guides us on a tour de force through the appearance of the compass, chronometer, radio, gyroscope, atomic clock, and more. He explains, in easy-to-understand terms, how these inventions contributed to the conceptualization and development of GPS. Bray does not forget the important individuals Ivan Getting, Roger Easton, and Brad Parkinson who formed brilliant teams and pioneered three-dimensional, space-based PNT. He acknowledges the Easton-Parkinson dispute about who really "invented" GPS and delivers an evenhanded assessment of both individuals' contributions. Anyone interested in the technical roots of this issue should read the recently published, GPS Declassified (2013) by Richard Easton and Eric Frazer.
An excellent synthesis of secondary sources, You Are Here morphs midway into something more than a history of navigation. Bray explores how the availability of extremely precise PNT has revolutionized social interaction around the world and created significant privacy issues. Rather than relying on...